The Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO, has issued the following news item. The SIU is a DPE affiliate.
Professional Union Membership Continued Making Gains Last Year, But Opportunity for Growth Remains
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2020 – The number of professionals in unions inched up in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) annual report on union membership. Professional union membership rose to 6.27 million, a gain of just over 90,000 members from 2018 and a new all-time high. However, the growth of the professional workforce outpaced the growth in union organizing, leading to a small decrease in union density among professional and technical employees.
“Professionals are continuing to join unions,” said Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE) President Jennifer Dorning. “The modest gains made last year helped the total number of professionals in unions reach the highest level to date, clearly demonstrating continued opportunities to grow the labor movement by organizing professional and technical employees.”
Union membership among professionals has steadily increased over the course of the past 20 years with the total number of union professionals growing from 5 million to 6.27 million. Last year, DPE affiliated unions helped continue this trend by welcoming tech workers, healthcare professionals, nonprofit employees, digital journalists, federal government employees, and many other professionals into the labor movement.
Unfortunately, as union membership among professionals has grown, the overall number of union members declined in 2019, to a total of 14.6 million.
Today’s BLS report serves as a reminder that there are a lot of opportunities for union organizing in the professional workforce. Professional union membership is largely concentrated in education and healthcare, leaving many sectors and occupations with plenty of room for union organizing. Legal services; architectural, engineering and related services; and computer services are all growing sectors that employ millions of professionals and are largely unorganized.
Among the 50 million nonunion professionals, DPE research shows that a majority would support the formation of a union in their workplace. However, the same survey shows that a major obstacle to unionizing professionals is their lack of knowledge about unions, how to start one and how to identify which union is right for them.
While professionals are joining together in unions across the country, the reality is that current labor law does not adequately protect employees’ workplace rights. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the basis of private sector labor law, lacks strong enforcement mechanisms and real penalties for employer wrong-doing. Modernizing labor law by passing legislation like the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would make it easier for employees to act on their desire to form unions.
“Professionals are interested in the benefits of joining together in union with their coworkers, but there is a knowledge barrier. We’ve seen professionals in previously unorganized sectors, like digital media and nonprofits, unionize in recent years, which shows that unions can overcome this challenge by putting out the welcome mat and speaking to the unique needs of professionals,” said Dorning.
The Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE) is a coalition of 24 unions representing over four million professional and technical union members. DPE affiliate unions represent professionals in over 300 occupations in education and healthcare; science, engineering, and technology; legal, business, and management; media, entertainment, and the arts; and public administration.
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