Gordon Tokumatsu, Peter Garrow
Labor Day is a traditionally strong day for U.S. unions, but changing times have transformed the impact of unions in the workplace. Organized labor is in for the fight of its life, with the stakes high on both sides of the debate. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Sept. 3, 2012
Organized workers have historically held a prominent position on Labor Day, when union members traditionally march in parades, but some Americans are asking if organized labor is still a player in the national discussion.
Private sector membership in unions is down to 6.9 percent, and membership hovers around 37 percent in the public sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Overall, the nation’s union membership is 11.8 percent, down significantly from 1983 -- the first year for which comparable union data are available -- when there were 17.7 million workers, or 20.1 percent of the U.S. workforce.
Josh Norgdren, like many of his peers in their early 30s, say they respect what unions have accomplished but never considering membership as a part of their career plans.
"I don't personally need them," Nordgren said.
For many Americans coming out of college or entering the work force, the challenge in a tough economy is getting any kind of work, let alone organized.
Unions are less relevant, according to Nordgren, because they haven't evolved with the competitive marketplace.
"I think that a person should have the choice, that’s my feeling about it," Nordgren said.
But union members like Gerry Daley, of the California Nurses' Association, says it’s time for Southern Californians to look forward, not back, and consider what benefits all workers enjoy thanks to unions.
"The weekend would not exist were it not for unions," Daley said. "Paid holidays, paid vacation, paid sick days. None of these things would exist."
More than just slogans and signs, organized labor is in for the fight of its life. The stakes, especially in this political year, are very high for both sides.