Nation Briefs

Unions sustain sharp decline in membership

WASHINGTON – Union membership plummeted last year to the lowest level since the 1930s as cash-strapped state and local governments shed workers and unions had difficulty organizing new members in the private sector despite signs of an improving economy.

Government figures released Wednesday showed union membership declined from 11.8 percent to 11.3 percent of the workforce, another blow to a labor movement already stretched thin by battles in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and other states to curb bargaining rights and weaken union clout.

Overall membership fell by about 400,000 workers to 14.4 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than half the loss, about 234,000, came from government workers, including teachers, firefighters and public administrators.

53 senators urge approval of pipeline

WASHINGTON – More than half the Senate on Wednesday urged quick approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, ramping up pressure on President Barack Obama to move ahead with the project just days after he promised in his inaugural address to respond vigorously to the threat of climate change.

A letter signed by 53 senators said Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman’s approval of a revised route through his state puts the long-delayed project squarely in the president’s hands.

“We urge you to choose jobs, economic development and American energy security,” the letter said, adding that the pipeline “has gone through the most exhaustive environmental scrutiny of any pipeline” in U.S. history. The $7 billion project would carry oil from Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Beverage industry, NYC lawyers duel over drinks

NEW YORK – The city defended its groundbreaking size limit on sugary drinks Wednesday as an imperfect but meaningful rein on obesity, while critics said it would hurt small and minority-owned businesses while doing little to help health.

The first courtroom arguments in the closely watched case ended without an immediate ruling. Opponents said they planned to ask a judge to delay enforcement during the suit, which has broached questions of racial fairness alongside arguments about government authority and burdens to business.

The NAACP’s New York state branch and a network of Hispanic groups have joined a legal effort to block the first-of-its-kind restriction, igniting questions Wednesday about the groups’ ties to the beverage industry.

Associated Press