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Tough Laws, Reduced Ranks _ What Next For Unions?

Still, Zimmick worries not just about his local â¿¿ but the fate of all unions.

"It weighs on me every single night before I go to bed," he says. "Unions don't have the leverage and power that we used to. It doesn't mean we won't regain it. The unions, in my opinion, will come roaring back. ... But the image is terrible right now. The media spins us as hurting business and the non-union workers â¿¿ there's animosity and jealousy toward us."

Unions still have influence in blue-state strongholds, but the days are long gone when labor leaders were household names and generous contracts were virtually assured. Even in friendly terrain, there are both die-hard supporters and workers who've abandoned the movement.

John Consentino paid his first union dues at 18, following his father on the Ford assembly line in Ohio; now 39 years later, he credits the UAW with lifelong security. When friends who don't belong to unions tell him they're doing OK, he says he warns them: "Wait until the hiccup, when things aren't going fine. You're going to wish you had a union."

Don McGough lost his job as a union steelworker. He found a new position and a decade later, he voted no when the machinists' union tried to organize workers at his company, JWF Industries, in Pennsylvania. "There are so many companies that just closed their doors because the union wouldn't budge," he says.

So, are unions to blame for their dwindling numbers? Yes and no, according to Gary Chaison, an industrial relations professor at Clark University in Massachusetts. He says unions haven't been nimble dealing with globalization and an increasingly mobile workforce.

"I think there still is a labor movement," he says, "but it's having a very difficult time finding its relevancy. It's not sure what to do or how best to serve its members. ... They're sort of wallowing around without direction. They still have a power in their presence. They don't have a power in their mission."

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