The economy is recovering, but the wealth that has been generated is not being shared widely, a local labor leader said.
Workers' wages used to increase proportionally when their companies grew more productive, but their pay has stayed largely flat in real terms since the 1980s, despite big increases in productivity, said Jim Robinson, director of United Steelworkers District 7. That trend got worse in the recession, he said.
"We're struggling to make sure that working people capture a fair share of the wealth they produce," he said. "The problem is that we're regressing back to a new Gilded Age."
Private-sector union membership fell off from a high of about 35 percent of workers during the 1950s and 1960s, to about 7 percent of the labor force today, Robinson said. Unions are trying to persuade more workers that their employers will not let them keep more of the fruits of their labor unless they can negotiate from a unified position of strength.