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1959: In their heyday, steelworkers on strike in Chicago. Photo: Grey Villet / LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

Three decades after Ronald Reagan broke the air traffic controllers union, organized labor is still trying to regain its footing. Just 10% of American workers belong to unions, half the percentage of the Reagan era.

What's happening: Later this month, the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor group, will convene a closed conference call of the leaders of its 55 associated unions to start figuring out how to climb back, Elizabeth Shuler, the AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer, tells Axios. Later this year, they will gather in Washington, DC, to advance the process.

Why it matters: Robots and jobs are among the most-discussed subjects on the planet. Yet labor — the long-time voice of workers who will be most affected by the technological change — is all but missing from the conversation when thinkers discuss how to address the new age of automation.

  • "All the trappings of your life are connected to your employment arrangement," Shuler says. "The employer-employee relationship is being threatened. You see employers shedding that responsibility. Why not? Of course they would do that."

Be smart: The union has an uphill climb against a deep anti-labor stigma in the U.S., and it knows it. But sentiments change, and so much else is topsy-turvy that a turnaround it is not inconceivable. Says Shuler: "We need to be new, different, relevant, attractive to people. People want to know, 'How does this benefit me?'"

The bottom line: Here is the thinking that Shuler will press: "What kind of society are we going to have if you can't make it? When you have atomization, amazonization and part-timization of work? No one is going to have decent wages, retirement, pensions."

Go deeper

Democrats' hypocrisy moment

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Ray Tamarra/Getty Images

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be facing explicit calls to resign from President Biden on down, if you apply the standard that Democrats set for similar allegations against Republicans. And it's not a close call.

Why it matters: The #MeToo moment saw men in power run out of town for exploiting young women. Democrats led the charge. So the silence of so many of them seems more strange — and unacceptable by their own standards — by the hour.

Police officers' immunity from lawsuits is getting a fresh look

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly a year after the death of George Floyd, advocates of changes in police practices are launching new moves to limit or eliminate legal liability protections for officers accused of excessive force.

Why it matters: Revising or eliminating qualified immunity — the shield police officers have now — could force officers accused of excessive force to personally face civil penalties in addition to their departments. But such a change could intensify a nationwide police officer shortage, critics say. 

The U.S. coronavirus vaccines aren't all the same

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The U.S. now has three COVID-19 vaccines, and public health officials are quick — and careful — to say there’s no bad option. But their effectiveness, manufacturing and distribution vary.

Why it matters: Any of the authorized vaccines are much better than no vaccine, especially for people at high risk of severe coronavirus infections. But their differences may fuel perceptions of inequity, and raise legitimate questions about the best way to use each one.