Professional Workers Joining Unions in Record Numbers

EMBARGO UNTIL August 29, 2003
Contact: Pamela Wilson

White Collar Workers Make up One-Third of Past Year’s New Union Members, Now a Near Majority of AFL-CIO

Washington, DC — A record number of professional and technical workers joined unions this past year—nearly 30 percent of all new union members, according to a new report, Rising Tide: Professionals, The New Face of America’s Unions, released today by the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO. The report notes that the increasing numbers of unionized professionals and other highly skilled white collar employees are shattering the myth and the common misperception that organized labor is predominantly a blue collar movement.

This latest surge in professionals joining unions means that white collar workers now represent almost 50 percent of the more than 13 million members of AFL-CIO unions and make up its fastest-growing occupational group, outpacing the transportation, manufacturing, building and construction, hospitality and service occupations.

“The labor movement is no longer just an economic safe haven for the blue collar and service workers who once dominated the institution,” said DPE President Paul E. Almeida. “Now unions are the destination of choice for professional workers seeking fairness, equity and a voice on the job in their everyday working lives.”

The report states, “Over the past decade, the occupational demographics of the American labor movement changed significantly as the nation’s workforce itself transitioned. But few pundits or observers noticed the emerging profile of professional/technical workers as a growing phenomenon within the AFL-CIO.

“The increase in professional employee unionization is driven by the decreasing possibilities for white collar workers to exercise independent judgment and their growing dependence as employees of multi-national corporations or HMO’s, along with the Bush administration’s attack on workers. White collar workers are turning to labor unions for collective action. For professional and technical workers, the key attraction of a union is that it gives them a voice—a voice on the job and a voice in government.

“The ability of unions to bargain and negotiate with employers on behalf of their members can make a critical difference in the lives of the members. In addition, their advocacy in Congress, the state legislatures and in municipal government makes a difference when the critical decisions on public policy are made.”

“White collar workers now make up 60 percent of the U.S. labor force, but as their numbers have increased, their voices have grown fainter,” said Almeida. “They have less independence in the workplace, their benefits are fading fast, and they have a President determined to strip away the rights of workers. With a union, white collar workers have a voice on the job and a voice in government.”

According to the report, the size and growth of the professional and technical labor force make it a major source of union membership today and in the foreseeable future.

Already, there are more union members among professionals than in any other occupational group. Members joining in the past year include 5,200 public health workers from Puerto Rico, 3,000 adjunct professors at New York University, and 60 newsroom employees of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts. They also include teachers, recording artists, pharmacists, sportscasters, silk screeners, school principals, pianists and prompters, aerospace engineers, epidemiologists, disc jockeys, optometrists, attorneys, scientists, and artists and many others.

In all, DPE unions conducted 222 successful unit campaigns or affiliations in 39 states—including 15 of the 22 right–to-work states —as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico. The average bargaining unit size was 293 employees.

Defying the blue collar image of organized labor, professional and other highly skilled white collar workers have been a steadily growing part of unions for over 100 years: from 2.5 percent in 1900, to nearly 50 percent of total union membership in 2002. The proportion of white collar workers in the US labor force is expected to increase dramatically in coming years.

“Almost 34 million people – more than 20 percent of the labor force – are expected to be employed in professional and technical occupations by 2010. If the labor movement is to grow, unions must organize increasing numbers of these highly skilled, white collar workers. This is the future of the labor movement,” said Almeida.

The Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO comprises 25 national and international AFL-CIO unions representing four million people employed in the professional, technical and administrative occupations. The Department was chartered by the AFL-CIO in 1977 to serve workers in these fast growing occupations.