NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 4, 2005

Union membership is shedding its blue-collar image as more white-collar workers form unions, says the Wall Street Journal. Engineers, judges and doctors are now banding together to gain clout.

Concerns over job outsourcing and uncertainty over benefits have gone beyond manufacturing workers, affecting professional workers as well. Most union growth is coming from the public sector, since organizing elections at government agencies have been more successful than at private companies.

  • Currently, about 12.5 percent of the U.S. workforce is unionized.
  • Overall union membership dropped by 1.5 million workers between 1985 and 2005, but increased by about the same amount among professional and technical workers.
  • According to the AFL-CIO, more than 51 percent of all union members are white-collar workers.

About 200 NASA scientists have become part of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. Eight years ago, the National Association of Immigration Judges, numbering 200, became a local of the Engineers union.

Pharmacists have even formed the Guild for Professional Pharmacists, most recently negotiating with Kaiser Permanente's San Francisco Medical Center, winning back some vacation and sick leave that the company cut.

Moreover, 3,200 New York psychologists have joined the American Federation of Teachers. Although most psychologists are self-employed, union membership has helped them to lobby against Medicaid funding cuts for psychological services.

However, professional unions have limitations. For example, in some cases, government workers are prohibited by federal law from collective bargaining.

Source: Kris Maher, "The New Union Worker," and Paul Glader, "Why Psychologists Unionized," Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2005.

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