The Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE) is one of six constitutional “trades” departments that are part of the AFL-CIO structure. The Trades Departments were first established within the Federation in 1955 at the time of the merger of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). They were intended to unite unions with strong common interests and goals and provide a direct focus on specific economic, legislative, regulatory, judicial and other policy concerns of member unions within defined occupational sectors. To achieve this, the Trades Departments offer a variety of advocacy and research support services to AFL-CIO affiliated unions in areas of common concern and where special efforts are needed to supplement the work of individual unions and the AFL-CIO.
While the DPE and the other trades departments are semi-autonomous units within the structure of the labor federation, they are also subordinate, i.e. governed by the constitution, rules and procedures of the AFL-CIO. Two examples of the symmetrical nature of this relationship are membership eligibility and policymaking. To be eligible to join a Trades Department, a union must first be affiliated with the AFL-CIO. The 23 unions affiliated with the DPE are member organizations of the Federation and represent professional and technical workers. On policymaking, Trades Departments are free to form their own policies and procedures so long as they do not conflict with the AFL-CIO. Thus, the DPE elects its own officers, has its own governance structure to determine its policies and programs, and it manages and finances its own fiscal affairs.
The Trades Departments help shape AFL-CIO policy in their specialized areas through their participation in a number of forums. Within the AFL-CIO governance and policy structure, the DPE attends meetings of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, which is comprised of the presidents and other key officers of the nation’s unions. The Department also has membership status within certain standing policy committees of the Council. At the quadrennial AFL-CIO conventions, DPE has delegate representation within the assembly and is appointed to convention committees. DPE also participates in many ongoing policy subcommittees established by AFL-CIO policy departments as advisory to the day-to-day operations of the Federation.
In addition to the DPE, the AFL-CIO has five other Trades Departments: Building and Construction Trades Department, Maritime Trades Department, Metal Trades Department, Transportation Trades Department and the Union Label and Service Trades Department.