Unions today account for 7.9 percent of the nation's private workforce and 12.5 percent of all workers. In the 1950s, one-third of all workers belonged to a union. So what’s going to happen if there are significant cutbacks in the AFL-CIO budget, and the remaining budget is increasingly dedicated to legislation and politics, as union leaders vow?

The rumor is that the Health and Safety Department would be abolished and the staff (those who aren’t laid off) would be merged into the legislative department, writes blogger Jordan Barab in his daily Internet diary, Confined Space.

"The staff consists of only four professionals, led by veteran Peg Seminario, one of the most respected health and safety — and labor — leaders in the country," writes Barab.

He says the department "plays a crucial strategic coordinating role with various unions, particularly focusing on legislation, standards and enforcement activities."

The fate of the AFL-CIO's safety department will probably be settled later this year. Meanwhile, the staff works under the same cloud of uncertainty familiar to many safety and health pros in private industry.