Labor unions have had a powerful influence on, and made vital contributions to, the American economy in the twentieth century. Organized labor has helped give birth to America's large middle class of workers, who are part of the most productive workforce on earth. The movement's presence as a potential organizing force has also prompted many employers and businesses to adopt a pro-employee agenda in the workplace—an agenda that respects and fosters the dignity and well being of all members of the workforce.

However, recent economic trends and many unions' refusal to face them have placed the organized labor movement at a crossroads. The purpose of this section is to explain how globalization and other trends are contributing to the rapid decline in union membership and point the way toward reform that can help labor organizations reverse their decline, free workers from compulsory working arrangements, and continue to play a vital role in the twenty-first century workforce.