By Jon Ortiz
jortiz@sacbee.com The Sacramento Bee
Published: Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 – 6:05 am

A little over a year ago, this column asked whether California’s state employee unions were in retreat. It’s now clear that the answer is yes.

First the big picture: Last year, unions nationwide lost 10 percent of their private-sector members, the largest drop in more than 25 years, according to federal stats. The impact on labor: fewer members, less dues money.

Labor has also suffered big political hits. National health care reform and legislation to ease union-organizing rules are in trouble despite millions spent by labor to elect Democrats who supported them, including President Barack Obama. A recent Supreme Court decision that lifted the ban on corporate spending in political campaigns will intensify labor’s traditional battles with business.

The number of union members in the public sector exceeded their private-sector counterparts for the first time last year – even though there are five times the number of people in non-government jobs. Private-sector union membership fell to 7.4 million in 2009 from 8.2 million a year earlier, while civil service unions added 100,000 members, rising to 7.9 million.

Now, if union membership were the only yardstick of union success, state workers would be in OK shape. But it’s not.

Consider this: Historically, unions usually gained strength during economic slumps as workers seek the protections and benefits that come through organizing. That’s not happening now.

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