PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Union membership has dropped steeply since the 1980s, because of forces such as globalization, new technology, and the shift from a manufacturing to a service economy.

Now public-sector unions are under attack, too, and the future of organized labor hangs in the balance.

(Sound of chanting:)  “Hey hey, ho ho! …”

The Philadelphia Security Officers’ Union shows the challenges that unions face — and the opportunities they have.

Where labor used to be concentrated on assembly line floors, working directly for the profitmaker, workers are now spread out, subcontracted, part time — and therefore difficult to organize.

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(PSOU head Fabricio Rodriguez. Photo by Pat Loeb)

So it is against all odds that the PSOU, led by Fabricio Rodriquez (right), has won some modest victories.

“With us it was paid sick leave — that was the one cut that was too deep for most workers to take,” he recalls, “so we taught them how to run campaigns to win paid sick days.  They were able to win paid sick days at U Penn, Temple, Drexel, the Museum of Art.”

Rodriquez says that to survive, unions must look at new models– especially in light of attacks on public employees’ unions, which, until recently, had not been subject to union-busting tactics.

“They’re coming after (unions), disenfranchising us, in one of the few institutions where regular working people have a voice,”  Rodriquez says.

And he says if unions don’t make a comeback, all working people will feel the consequences.

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(Temple University professor John McClendon. Photo by Pat Loeb)

Indeed, Temple University professor John McClendon (right)  says as unions have declined, the middle class in general has lost ground.

“As we see middle-class wages stagnating over the last generation, one of the arguments is that they lack bargaining power,” Prof. McClendon says.

But Rodriquez, the union official, sees hope simply in the fact that, after all the attacks and setbacks, unions are still standing.

“The labor movement will always be there.  There’s always gotta be that voice fighting for regular working people.  So I think, as long as there is that, there’s hope.”

Reported by Pat Loeb, KYW Newsradio 1060.

Hear the CBS Philly “State of the Unions” podcasts…

Unionism in the Philadelphia Region, by KYW’s John McDevitt:

Organized Opposition to Organized Labor, by KYW’s Pat Loeb:

The Battle Over NJ Teacher Tenure, by KYW’s John McDevitt:

Will Labor Unions Survive?, by KYW’s Pat Loeb:

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