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The New Labor Movement: White Collar, Technical Workers Joining Unions

May 2001 IBEW Journal

A new analysis of labor trends finds an increasing number of professional and technical workers are joining unions, a challenge to the belief that white collar workers are aloof to organized labor.

The study, titled "The Professional and Technical Work Force: A New Frontier for Unions," was released by the AFL-CIO's Department for Professional Employees. It found an increasing number of teachers, nurses, IT technicians, writers, performers and even physicians are joining and transforming union organizations.

Comprising 22 percent of union representation, professionals now represent the second most highly unionized occupational group. Leading the field for the largest section of organized labor is the highly skilled production and craft trades with 23 percent. Operators and laborers come in a close third with 21 percent of today's labor movement. Service occupations, then administrative and clerical workers, respectively, follow in smaller percentages.

Other occupations in the report include broadcast, cable and telecommunications professionals and technicians, teachers and college professors, librarians, health care workers, professional performing artists, scientists and engineers, social service professionals, science technicians and computer professionals.

The report also discusses several concerns of today's professional and technical workers: continuing erosion of professional autonomy in an age when management bureaucracies are growing in size and scope; insecurities from the decline of full-time, long-term employment and the rise of part-time, contract and other non-permanent jobs; and the stress of the increased need for professionals and other highly skilled workers to train and retrain with little or no assistance from the employer community.

The Department for Professional Employees comprises 23 national and international AFL-CIO unions representing four million people employed in the professional, technical and administrative occupations.