Unions aren't what they used to be in the U.S.
More than 33 percent of the nation's workers belonged to labor unions in 1945. In 2010, that membership number had dropped to 11.9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Unions can still make their presence known, as evidenced during labor rallies against Senate Bill 5 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus in the last couple of weeks.
But the political power once wielded by organized labor has been waning for some time.
"From the 20th into the 21st century, the power of unions has gradually lowered, as the percentage of union workers has fallen precipitously," said Ohio University Prof. Paul Milazzo, who specializes in 20th century American history.
"There are two types of unions, the more recent being public sector unions that came about in the '50s and '60s," he explained. "The older type are industrial unions that organized against large corporations."
Ohio's total employed wage and salary workers for selected years, including total number of union members:
2000 - 5.05 million employed - 877,000 union members.
2005 - 5.04 million employed - 804,000 union members.
2010 - 4.78 million employed - 655,000 union members.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Milazzo said the Wagner Act of 1935 (formally known as the National Labor Relations Act), was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
"The act recognized the inherent right for workers to bargain with their employers and to vote for a single member to represent their interests," Milazzo said. "The law created a counterforce in the marketplace against corporate power."
He noted that while Roosevelt favored labor rights, he was uncomfortable with the idea of unions. Still, Roosevelt signed the Wagner Act, which served to solidify union support behind the Democratic Party.
"After World War II, there was a lot of organizing, and unions built an enormous membership," Milazzo said. "That was an advantage for labor, but the wages unions commanded were hard for companies to support."
By the 1960s, companies were beginning to move from the northeastern industrial belt to the southern states, where union organization was more difficult.
In Ohio, companies and jobs began to move out of state.
"The union rules and wages were difficult to change, and there was a gradual decline in union workers because companies closed or moved to non-union areas," Milazzo said.
"Also in the '60s and '70s, a high-tech labor force was developing that was much less susceptible to unionization," he added. "Try to unionize a company like Microsoft, and you'll just get laughed at."
Milazzo said those factors, among others, resulted in a decrease among private sector unions and membership.
Today the majority of organized labor members are in the public sector - state and local government employees.
According to the latest data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, public sector union membership was 7.6 million in 2010, compared to 7.1 million in private sector unions.
The largest group of union members in the public sector was 4.6 million local government employees.
"The Democratic Party realizes this is their lifeblood, and that's why these recent state battles over collective bargaining are so intense," Milazzo said. "And taxpayers are beginning to understand they're subsidizing a union system that's unsustainable."
As for local private sector unions, Troy Ferrell, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 972, said membership has remained steady for that group over the last several years.
"Our membership has stayed the same, but we've seen more unemployment in the last seven or eight years when the economy slowed," he said. "Work slowed way down and there have been layoffs in local industries.
"Many members have been able to find work outside this area - in Morgantown and Clarksburg (W.Va.)," Ferrell added.
He said many companies have also moved overseas.
"A lot have moved out of the Mid-Ohio Valley, from both sides of the river, and that has made it tougher for unions in Ohio and West Virginia," Ferrell said.
"We get involved in politics because legislation being passed can hurt the middle class working people - not just union members, but other people as well," he said. "We pay attention and try to stay involved in addressing those issues."
Ferrell said the private sector unions also support their public sector counterparts on issues like Ohio Senate Bill 5 that would prohibit strikes and limit collective bargaining for state and local government employees.
"We don't see this as a way the state is saving money," he said. "We see it as taking food off the tables of people who are just trying to pay their bills, send their kids to college and live a normal life. No one's getting rich."
Ferrell said SB 5 is just a first step.
"We believe the government will go after all of the industrial and building trades unions next," he said. "But the IBEW has been a big part of this community since 1919, and we're just trying to provide work for 220 local electrical workers who are also members of this community."
Ohio Sen. Jimmy Stewart, R-Athens, voted in favor of SB 5, which has moved on to the House of Representatives. But he noted the original bill would have eliminated collective bargaining all together.
"I supported putting collective bargaining rights back into that bill, and I did not support a full repeal of collective bargaining," Stewart said Friday.
Stewart has had support from private sector organized labor as well as public sector unions at the local level.
"There are certain places in Ohio where organized labor still carries good membership and clout," he said. "In areas like Cleveland and Toledo, unions still have a lot of influence.
"But there's not so much of that influence in many rural areas," Stewart added. "So there are a lot of variances in Ohio."
When he initially ran for office in 2002, Stewart said most unions supported his opponent.
"But after I was elected, I made it a point to meet with organized labor, not just in my district, but from across the state, and found we agreed on far more points than we disagreed," Stewart said.
"And the building and construction trades have been very supportive since I've been in office.
Stewart said he takes every issue separately as it comes his way, and looks at all sides before making decisions.
"I would hope to continue working with organized labor on future issues," he said.