“If the labor movement is to grow as it should – and as it must – it will be organizing millions more professional, technical and administrative support workers. Make no mistake about it. That is one of the highest priorities of the Federation.”
— John J. Sweeney, AFL-CIO President, Speech to 1997 DPE Convention
Professional Workers in the New Millennia
The proliferation of professional and technical workers in the last quarter of the 20th century, as well as the growth of contingent and other non-traditional work arrangements in the burgeoning service sector, are causing major shifts within the American labor movement. As implied commitments by companies to workers evaporate, so do the loyalties of professional employees to the organizations that employ them. Simultaneously, the role of unions in building new and improved social programs and support systems for these workers expands along with opportunities for organizing.
The changing character and conditions of work and the resulting turbulence have brought larger numbers of professional and technical workers into the labor movement since the last AFL-CIO convention. During the past two years, engineers and technicians, nurses and doctors, university researchers, professors and graduate teaching assistants, psychologists, customer service representatives as well as a host of others, have joined the millions who already find a voice for themselves and their professions within the unions of the DPE. As of this report, our 23 affiliates collectively represent some four million professional, technical and administrative support workers employed in education, health care, entertainment and media, science and engineering and public administration.
While total union representation has fallen since the DPE was created in 1977, it has increased to 22.5% among the professional occupations. Professionals currently constitute the largest contingent of union members of any occupational classification. Significant numbers of technical and administrative support workers also enjoy union representation. And despite the common perception that organized labor primarily attracts and represents blue-collar workers, almost 50% of union members wore white collars in 2000 and their numbers are rising. Growing insecurity, increasing work hours and decreasing job satisfaction are prompting these workers to turn to the collective power of unions for support and assistance.
Organizing and Collective Bargaining Support
The Department initiated new efforts to provide key assistance to affiliates during organizing campaigns and contract disputes:
- DPE helped raise funds for the internal organizing effort by SPEEA/IFPTE among Boeing engineers after the AFL-CIO had declined to lend financial support from the organizing fund. The early support of the DPE network helped SPEEA’s membership grow from its pre-affiliation number of 10,000 to its current membership of over 20,000. Since SPEEA’s affiliation with IFPTE, they have successfully organized another 4,000 IT and technical workers at Boeing’s Wichita, Kansas plant. Another SPEEA/IFPTE organizing drive is currently underway in St. Louis at the former McDonnell-Douglass (now Boeing) facility where the target is 5,000 more engineers. On behalf of IFPTE, the DPE has again requested the support of the AFL-CIO organizing fund in the St. Louis campaign.
- During the subsequent six-week Boeing strike that followed the SPEEA-IFPTE affiliation, DPE facilitated support from the AFL-CIO Strategic Campaigns Committee and AFL-CIO affiliates in general. The Federation lent both financial and staffing support that was critical to the success of this strike by over 17,000 Boeing engineers.
- During the six-month commercial advertising strike by SAG/AFTRA, the Department was directly involved in strategy discussions between the unions and the AFL-CIO. DPE also advised AFL-CIO leadership and corporate campaign staff, who was assigned to assist with the strike, regarding appropriate support measures throughout the dispute.
- The DPE also facilitated early roundtable discussions with AFL-CIO President Sweeney and Secretary Treasurer Trumka and the Hollywood unions prior to contract bargaining in 2001, which concluded successfully in early June with a contract settlement.
- The Department provided boycott support assistance directly and through the AFL-CIO to Actors Equity against the non-union, traveling theatrical productions of Sound of Music and Music Man.
Training and Outreach
Organizer Training—In response to affiliate requests for assistance, the Department is working with the George Meany Center to develop courses in training new organizers of professional workers. A pilot course was held in early 2000. Attended by organizers from nine DPE affiliates, this was the second successful “test” program that led to the week long Basic Course in Organizing Professional, Technical and Other Highly Skilled Workers being offered by the Center in March 2001 and for next year. Similar collaboration is underway with the Center on a curriculum for a pilot course geared to Lead Organizers scheduled for December 2001. It is DPE’s intention that these courses become an annual offering at the Center.
Outreach to Pre-Professionals—A DPE task force chaired by AFT Secretary-Treasurer Ed McElroy blocked out a strategy for carrying the union message to pre-professionals in colleges and universities, unorganized professionals and the general public. In the last two years, with AFT members acting as faculty advisors, discipline-oriented student groups were created in journalism, media and communications and, with the assistance of the AFM, in music. Plans are underway to develop programs in technical disciplines and health care as well.
At Eastern Illinois University (in journalism, media and communications) and at the Berklee College of Music, a series of programs have been held to promote an understanding of the role that unions play on behalf of professionals in these occupations. Activities have included workshops, lectures, small gatherings, lunches, and class presentations all involving representatives from the affiliates. More programs are planned for these campuses and to expand both programs to other locations. The Department also sponsored a briefing for a group of 25 top engineering students from colleges and universities throughout the nation who were in Washington D.C. as part of a national internship program. The success of these programs has led affiliates including AFM and Actors Equity to initiate their own outreach efforts to pre-professionals.
Professional Associations—The DPE continues to assist affiliates in building relationships with non-union professional organizations and their members by establishing a presence whenever and wherever possible at professionally-oriented conferences and meetings. DPE publications identify these organizations within key areas and provide information on the locations and dates of their major meetings. The next step is to plan activities that will help the affiliates relate more directly to these organizations. Two examples of this interaction are with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the American Public Health Association (APHA). For the last several years the DPE has collaborated with IEEE to lobby Congress against increases in the H-1B guest worker program. The DPE also continues to work with the APHA’s Labor Caucus to expand its membership and sponsor workshops and other activities. Department worked with HERE and other Caucus members to craft an APHA policy resolution calling for their affiliates to use union hotels for events.
Unions and Professionals—Communicating to professionals and the general public the message that today’s unions serve all professionals, including those at the highest levels, is another outreach strategy of the DPE. To do this, the Department is planning to hold a series of well-publicized public events featuring prominent professionals in the arts, journalism and the media; science and technology; education, and health care who are union members and who understand and reflect the values and traditions of the labor movement. In late September the Department is joining with the TNG-CWA, AFT and other groups to sponsor a one-day meeting on the threats to freedom of the press and academic independence posed by growing commercial and ideological intrusion into these areas of free expression. The event will feature two panels of union-member press and academic experts as well as others. Additional public events are in the planning stages.
Communications—To enhance the profile of the Department and its activities and to relate more effectively to the public and professional workers, the DPE created a new staff position in 2000 to coordinate the Department’s public affairs outreach. Through interviews, press releases, opinion editorials, letters to the editor and other press opportunities, the visibility of DPE and the labor’s message about unions and professionals is now reaching a wider audience.
Research and Publications
The Department focuses its resources on activities that assist its affiliates in relating to and organizing the professional, technical and administrative work force. The extensive research and publications work of the DPE supports this objective, as well as its lobbying and other public policy activities. In the last two years, the Department issued a total of ten publications. The first were a series of five economic reports which present comprehensive portraits of the white collar work force:
- The Professional and Technical Work Force: A New Frontier for Unions surveys America’s rapidly expanding professional and technical occupations and the development of unions within them. Chapters of the 99-page report discuss different occupational categories.
- Current Statistics on White Collar Employees is a compendium of data on the composition of the white collar work force; employment gains, losses and projections; the rise and nature of contingent work arrangements; union membership; trends in wages and salaries, college enrollment and other data.
- Salaried and Professional Women: Relevant Statistics presents data depicting the growth, employment and earnings trends of women in the professional and technical work force, and their increasing participation in unions and higher education.
- Current Statistics on Engineers, Scientists and Technicians offers data on employment and earnings in these occupations, union membership, trends in college and university education and related areas.
- The Service Sector: A Statistical Portrait includes sections examining the growth in service sector employment with projections for the future; earnings in service sector industries; union membership and the sector’s role in U.S. trade.
Three other publications on Societies for Engineers, Scientists and Technicians, Non-union Organizations for Professional and Business Women, and Societies for Health Care Professionals and Technicians analyze the membership benefits of various professional societies and organizations and include schedules of their upcoming conferences and meetings. Two additional publications focusing on the status of the contingent work force, with particular regard to professional employees. Disenfranchising Employees: A Briefing Book on Worker Classification Under the National Labor Relations Act is a legal analysis of the status of professional workers, temporary, leased, agency and other contingent employees under the NLRA. The problems this poses for union organization and some possible solutions are discussed. Virtual Employees Have Virtually No Protection is a brief lay version of the above 210-page publication.
Legislation and Public Policy
From late 1999 through mid-year 2001, the Department was involved in nearly 20 different legislative, regulatory and other policy matters. The DPE provides legislative, research, strategy and agency liaison support to affiliates and advises the AFL-CIO on policy matters that are unique to DPE affiliates. Among the major issues of concern were:
- Lobbying the FCC and Congress to preserve certain broadcast regulations including restrictions on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership.
- Stopping legislative efforts by right-wing religious broadcasters to end-run the FCC’s broadcast license renewal process for non-commercial, educational public broadcasting TV licenses.
- Securing labor-backed protections enhancing consumers programming choices in satellite broadcasting legislation through “must carry” and retransmission consent requirements related to the rebroadcast of local TV programming.
- Joining other affiliates in filing comments with the FCC in support of adoption of the American standard for High Definition TV.
- The DPE, AFL-CIO and affiliated unions have thus far been successful in warding off efforts to further erode FLSA overtime protections for certain classifications of computer-IT professionals.
- Supporting affiliates on House-passed legislation to enact a limited anti-trust exemption for certain health care professionals so that they could bargain with managed care plans.
- Backing legislation to address the problem of employer misclassification by simplifying and reforming the legal definition of independent contractors.
- Supporting 2001 legislation to make permanent the extension of Section 127 of the IRS code that allows workers to exclude from taxable income employer-provided educational tuition benefits. The legislation, which was later included in the Bush tax package, extended the exclusion to graduate level training.
- Pushing the Congress to amend the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) to end discriminatory tax treatment against middle-income performers.
- Opposing legislation to extend the Congressional moratorium disallowing the states from collecting sales taxes on Internet commodity transactions without provisions enabling state and local jurisdictions from eventually collecting billions in lost revenue. DPE established a task force of affiliate lobbyists to work on this issue
- Despite the opposition of DPE, the AFL-CIO and affiliated unions, the Congress overwhelmingly approved and President Clinton signed legislation to massively expand the H-1B guest worker program less than two years after it had passed legislation nearly doubling the H-1B cap.
- Opposed an INS proposal to implement a so-called “grace period” to allow dislocated H-1Bs to stay in the U.S. and compete against U.S. workers for high tech jobs.
- Convincing Congress to successfully restore copyright protections for recording artists.
- Lobbying Congress to forestall the publishing industry efforts to reverse the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Tasini v. New York Times et. al. that sustained the right of free-lance writers to be compensated for the re-publication of their works on the Internet.
- Successfully lobbied for additional funds for National Endowment for the Arts.
The new millennia ushered in a historical change of leadership for the Department as its first and only CEO—Jack Golodner—announced his retirement in 2000. Since it was first chartered by the AFL-CIO in 1977, the DPE had been ably led by Brother Golodner who, in the late 1960s, had been the driving force in the formation of the Council of AFL-CIO Unions for Scientific, Professional and Cultural Employees, which later became DPE. During his over three decades of service, the role of professional and technical workers in the labor movement rose to major importance. Throughout his tenure, Brother Golodner sought to give voice to their concerns and dedicated himself to bringing the benefits of collective bargaining and union membership to their ranks. At his retirement in early 2001, the General Board of the DPE in adopting a resolution naming Jack President Emeritus, said this about his tenure:
“As the labor movement meets the challenges of a changing economy and changing workforce, we owe Jack a debt of gratitude for his farsighted leadership in laying the groundwork for union growth among professional and technical workers. His depth of knowledge, compassion and dedication to the cause of working families is recognized by all that know him. We value having had the benefit of his talents and friendship for these many years.”
As his successor, the Board named Paul E. Almeida, President of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers since 1994. In the last several years IFPTE has been among the fastest growing unions within the Federation. Through new organizing and affiliations, IFPTE doubled its size from 30,000 to 60,000 in less than five years. Brother Almeida, an engineer by profession, had been a general vice president and executive board member of DPE and chaired its Committee on Engineers, Technicians and Scientists.
The other principal officers of DPE are: Chairman of the Board, CWA President Morty Bahr; First Vice-President, AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Bill Lucy; and Treasurer, OPEIU Secretary-Treasurer Gilles Beauregard.