Sign at the AFL-CIO building in Washington, D.C.
Sign at the AFL-CIO building in Washington, D.C. - 
Listen To The Story


Scott Jagow: Also in Washington today, the AFL-CIO hosts a conference on the freedom to form unions. This is a pretty critical time for labor groups. The percentage of Americans under union contracts is at its lowest point in decades.
More from Jeremy Hobson.

Jeremy Hobson: In the 1950's, about 35 percent of American workers were unionized. Today, 12 percent.

Stewart Acuff: It's shocking.

That's Stewart Acuff, the AFL-CIO's national organizing director. He says among developed nations, the U.S. is not providing nearly the protections for unions that other countries do.

Acuff: Our policies have not kept up with the change in the global economy.

John Beck heads the Labor Education Program at Michigan State University. He says in order for unions to regain traction, legal protections have to catch up with the times. For instance, benefits should be transferrable from one company to another.

John Beck: Those kinds of legal realities are going to have to shift as work becomes far more mobile, as people try to come to grips with not only what the demands of the workplace are, but what the demands of a new workforce are.

Tomorrow, Congress will hear from union leaders directly on strengthening workers' rights.

In Washington, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

Follow Jeremy Hobson at @jeremyhobson