By Allison Linn, NBC News
When most people think of unionized workers, they picture a guy in a hard hat walking out of a factory. A more accurate picture might be of a second-grade teacher walking out of a classroom.
Public-sector union members such as teachers, firefighters and other government workers now make up more than half of total union membership in the United States, due mainly to steady declines among private sector union jobs.
The shift means that public-sector unions are increasingly taking on the mantle of representing the fight for broader worker’s rights – beyond just their membership base – on issues as far-reaching as tax cuts and the fiscal cliff.
“I think we have to be advocating for more than just unions. I think we have to advocate for this whole concept of middle class,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, a union representing more than 3 million teachers and other education workers.