Labor dismay: AFL-CIO boss says unions too small to make a difference

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Labor unions,Barack Obama,Labor,AFL-CIO,Richard Trumka,National Education Association

It’s not a happy Labor Day at the nation’s union headquarters.

With membership stuck at an historic low, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is confessing that even with the recent pop in the economy, workers are still fighting to make ends meet and his unions are struggling to gain bigger numbers.

“We are still in crisis,” said Trumka.

“We have seen some callbacks, like the construction industry, and a couple of other industries,” he said of the few areas experiencing union job growth. But, he added, “I would say we are still, the labor movement, is still in crisis.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that 11.3 percent of wage and salary workers belong to unions, down from 20.1 percent in 1983 and 34.8 percent in 1954. And the biggest unions are now for white-collar public sector workers, like teachers, not autoworkers or truck drivers. There are 14.5 million union members, about the same as last year, said BLS.

Trumka, at the latest Christian Science Monitor media breakfast, said that is not a big enough number to force change in the nation.

“We are still too small to be able to change the economy to make it a shared economy, or prosperity for all,” he said.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at