The Future of the AFL-CIO: DPE`s Response

The debate that is now emerging within the AFL-CIO over the future and direction of the Federation is about how “the
movement” can retool, reinvent and perhaps restructure in order to achieve growth in union membership, expand the
benefits of collective bargaining and increase its political power for the greater good.
For unions it is axiomatic that if they are to grow, they must reach out to the work force that is expanding. The greatest
portion of that expanding work force is, and will continue to be, among America’s professional and technical workers.
The good news for the labor movement is that a number of its unions already represent millions of workers in white
collar occupations, providing a significant base from which organized labor can and should grow. The bad news is that
this white collar base is also one of organized labor’s best kept secrets. That paradox needs to change.
The AFL-CIO and the American Labor Movement have an image problem.
To a large segment of the fast-growing professional and technical work force, the labor movement—as embodied by
the AFL-CIO—is seen as irrelevant. The Federation is viewed as an economic anachronism that is either: a) focused
solely on blue collar and lower-skilled service workers; or b) clinging to the remnants of dying industries and declining
occupations. Many of these same white collar workers believe that unions do a good job for these other workers, but
don’t feel that unions make sense for them. Others exhibit an elitism regarding themselves as highly educated workers
who have nothing in common with their less skilled counterparts. While these biases and attitudes are short-sighted,
they persist because labor has neglected to counter them by consistently showcasing the multi-dimensional face of our
movement, and directly appealing to professionals by profiling what labor has done and is doing for them.
The American work force has changed dramatically. Among the most significant transformations has been the largescale decline of manufacturing and blue collar jobs and the concurrent growth in professional employment. Once
predominantly blue collar, the labor force is now largely white collar. And this transition will continue for decades to
As this sea change has taken hold, it is as if the American economy and its work force have passed the labor movement
by. Over the last quarter century the economy moved to a post industrial age but the labor movement failed to keep
pace on many levels. This includes labor’s inability to expand upon a significant white collar base to build even greater
density among professional and technical workers. Meanwhile, the transition within the American work force has been
Between 1950 and 2003, the percentage of the work force that is white collar grew from less than 37% to
60.5%. While manual workers comprised 41% of the work force in 1950, by 2003 they accounted for less
than 23% of the work force. 1
Almost 28 million Americans (about one-third of all white collar workers and 20.3% of the total work force)
were employed in the professions and as highly skilled technicians in 2003. Their number is rising rapidly.
When the DPE was chartered in 1977, these occupations accounted for just 13.9 million workers and only
15.2% of the work force. 2
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of professional and related workers is projected to increase by 6.5
million, or 23.3%, continuing their position as the fastest growing occupational group. (Total U.S. employment
is expected to increase by less than 15% over this period). 3
These occupations will account for 30.3% of all employment growth from 2002–2012. 4
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the U.S., Colonial Times to 1970, 1975; U.S. Department of Labor Statistics,
Current Population Survey, 2004.
Hecker, Daniel, “Occupational Employment Projections to 2012,” U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review, Vol. 127, No. 2,
February 2004.
Ironically, the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions have a strong foothold in the white collar world of work:
• More than 50% of all union members are white collar workers. 5
• Professional and related occupations currently constitute the largest contingent of union members of any
occupational classification. 6
• According to the DOL, over 3 million professional and technical employees already participate in collective
bargaining organizations; that translates into 50% of those professional employees eligible for union
membership. 7
• In 2003, more than 4.6 million (18.1%) professionals were union members, while only 13% of the overall
work force was organized. 8
• While union representation had fallen to 15% of the U.S. work force in 2003, it was about 21% among
professionals; significant numbers of administrative support workers (2.4 million) also enjoy union
representation. 9
The AFL-CIO, through many of its affiliated unions, today represents millions of professionals in nearly 400 separate
and distinct occupations. 10 Union professionals are literally everywhere—teachers and techies, screen actors and
broadcasters, writers and journalists, engineers and scientists, musicians, nurses and therapists, judges, and many more.
Union workers helped plan and build the space station; pioneered breakthroughs in medical science; and discovered
new disease fighting drugs, among other accomplishments. They design roads and bridges; educate tomorrow's
workers in today's classrooms; and care for the health of our nation. They have won Academy and Tony Awards,
Grammies and Emmys along with Pulitzer, Peabody and Nobel prizes. In short, they have been recognized throughout
the world for the highest achievement in their respective professions. Yet the question arises—why hasn’t the AFLCIO more consistently and prominently profiled these workers and their achievements as a means to showcase the
movement’s already expansive base among these white collar workers?
This is a face of American labor that is rarely seen. The average citizen outside our ranks, along with many academics,
politicians, the press and even organizations allied with us more often than not don’t connect the dots between the
professions and unions. Even among some segments of our unions there is a reverse elitism that holds that well-off
professionals don’t need unions anyway so why bother with them. Yet, if the movement is to survive, expand and build
density in the 21st century, it must “walk the walk and talk the talk” to establish its relevance with these workers. As
the debate about the future of the AFL-CIO unfolds, the question organized labor must ask itself is:How can we
relate to and speak to professionals more effectively so that white collar workers will see the AFL-CIO and unions
generally as institutions of economic relevance to them and their professions?
Professional Identity
Polling data, focus group findings and other information have long shown that professionals—more than any other
occupational group—have a strong affinity for direct membership in organizations that are of, by and for them.
Professionals and other highly skilled white collar workers are joiners: They affiliate with professional societies and
associations to network, continue their education, present papers and attend programs, receive mentoring, and so on.
So strong is this inclination that often these workers will also seek out and associate with both national organizations
as well as subset groups that represent a specific discipline within a profession. For example, there are nearly 20
US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, News, “Union Members in 2003,” USDL 04-53, 2004.
Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO. Occupations Represented by DPE Unions. Edition of 8/13/04.
national engineering associations or societies to which these highly educated workers can affiliate. 11 They represent
such engineering disciplines as civil, electrical, chemical, energy, environmental, manufacturing, mechanical,
petroleum, iron and steel to name a few. Over 1 million engineers belong to these groups, the largest being the Institute
of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) with whom the AFL-CIO—through the DPE—has a close working
relationship. In health care, there are over 70 professional associations; nursing alone has well over 20 different
organizations. 12 Over 3 million nurses belong to these organizations, the largest of which is the Sigma Theta Tau
International (STTI) Honor Society of Nursing with 300,000 members—20,000 more than the AMA! In journalism—a
much smaller profession—again more than 20 groups exist representing over 60,000 in this occupation.
The AFL-CIO has long had within its ranks a small core of unions that represent a distinct professional occupation.
Examples include IFPTE, UAN, the 4As (the umbrella affiliate for AEA, AFTRA, SAG and AGMA), AFM, ALPA,
NATCA, IAFF, FPA, AFSA, AFT and the Writers Guild (WGAE). With respect to these unions, with three exceptions
each has a common characteristic: they are all small organizations. Yet each represents a distinct and unique
occupation which makes it professionally relevant to its members. With the exception of the actor unions (more about
that later), none really lends itself to amalgamation with each other or to acquisition by larger national unions where it
would be swallowed up.
Other major AFL-CIO unions affiliated to the DPE—AFSCME, AFGE, CWA, OPEIU, SEIU and UFCW—represent a
mix of members that include large contingents of professional and technical workers. Some, but not all, of these unions
have made accommodations within their structure to maintain the occupational identity of their professionals.
Examples include the establishment of councils or caucuses within national unions. The mergers of NABET, The
Newspaper Guild (TNG) and more recently the Flight Attendants (AFA) into the CWA is another example of a more
visible, higher level set of governance adaptations. Each in its own way demonstrates the parent union’s grasp of the
organizational desirability to maintain for these workers a modicum of occupational identity within the larger
Women in Unions and the Professions—A Commanding Presence
There has been an enormous increase in the participation of working women in the U.S. work force. The number of
working women has risen from 5.1 million in 1900 to nearly 65 million in 2003. Their number is projected to exceed
77 million by 2012. In 2003, more than 60% of women age 16 or older worked outside the home, up from 37.7% in
1960. Women now account for 47% of the labor force. 13
Women have made significant progress in both the mainstream and higher echelons of the labor force. While women
still predominate among sales administrative support and service workers, they are also the majority in the professional
and related occupations. They currently account for 56.4% of all professionals, a percentage that is expected to
increase. 14
To illustrate:
• Women have been earning more bachelor’s degrees than men since 1982 and they have been earning more
master’s degrees since 1981. They are expected to earn 58% of all B.A. and M.A. degrees conferred in 2004
and will receive 44% of all doctoral degrees--up from 10.5% in 1961. 15
• Many of the traditionally male elite occupations have undergone a change in their gender composition—
o In 1975, women accounted for just 10% of physicians. By 2003 they were 30% of all physicians and
surgeons. In 2002, women accounted for almost 50% of all medical students. 16
o In 2003, women were 28% of all lawyers and in 2002 they were more than 49% of all law students. 17
Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO. Societies for Engineers, Scientists and Related Technicians. 2002 Edition.
Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO. Societies for Professional and Technical Health Care Workers. 2002 Edition.
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Perspectives on Working Women: A Databook, Bulletin 2080, 1980; U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of
Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, 2003; Hecker, Daniel, “Occupational Employment Projections to 2012,” U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor
“Occupational Employment Projections,” op.cit; Current Population Survey, 2003, op.cit.
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2003
Current Population Survey, op. cit; American Association of Medical Colleges, Databook, 2003 Edition.
Current Population Survey, op. cit.; American Bar Association, Legal Education Division.
Between 1960 and 2001, the percentage of degrees in dentistry earned by women increased from 0.8%
to 39%. 18
While women remain under-represented in the scientific and technical occupations, they have made
significant inroads in some of the computer-related occupations.
As to women in unions, they currently account for 44% of all union members (and 62.2% of all union professional and
office and administrative support workers) and 55% of all newly organized workers, according to Kate
Bronfenbrenner, Director of Labor Education Research at Cornell University. 19 In fact, for the past 25 years, women
have outpaced men as new members of unions, and organizing campaigns in which women are a majority of the work
force are more likely to succeed. Bronfenbrenner’s research has found an average win rate of 62% in units where the
majority is female, compared to 35% or less where women are the minority. However, recent research shows an
erosion of women’s support for union membership. A 2004 AFL-CIO report entitled Report to the Executive Council:
Overcoming Barriers to Women in Organizing and Leadership, found that women worry about losing their
individual voice in unions, that women were more likely to view unions as ineffective, and that many women believe
unions are made up of blue collar men.
Given the prominence of women in the work force generally, their majority status within newly organized workers
and their importance to union organizing campaigns, the question that must be asked is: What more can the AFLCIO do both programmatically and within the governing structure to give greater stature and visibility to women
labor leaders as well as those issues affecting white collar women workers?
Contingent workers—A Growing Trend
The last 20 years have seen a huge increase in contingent workers employed by "virtual" employers. Contingent
workers assume many forms, including temporary and part-time employees, consultants, leased employees,
subcontractors, and short-term, life-of-the-project employees. The common denominator for all contingent work is that
there is no expectation of a long-term relationship between the employer and the worker and there is little job stability.
Today about 25% of the total American work force is made up of workers in contingent arrangements. Professionals
and related employees are disproportionately represented among the contingent work force, accounting for up to 30%
of all contingent workers. They are nurses, computer specialists, writers, chemists, health technicians, architects,
lawyers, and others.
Contingent work arrangements usually mean less economic security for employees, and not only because the
employment is not “permanent”. Health insurance, pension, and other benefits such as paid vacation and sick leave are
often not part of the equation. As of February 2001, just 10% of all contingent workers had employer-provided health
insurance, while less than 7% were included in employer-provided pension plans. 20 This contrasts with full-time, core
or permanent employees, where 56% of full-time workers were covered by some form of employer-provided medical
insurance and 58% by retirement plans. 21 The growing number contingent workers undoubtedly contribute to the
increasing number of non-elderly–more than 45 million in 2003–who have no health insurance. Contingent workers
also often lack the protected right to form and join unions. As implied commitments by companies to workers
evaporate, so do the loyalties of workers to those employers and the role of unions in building new and improved
social programs and support systems expands.
The trend toward an increasingly contingent work force will persist as firms continue to move from being integrated to
more specialized organizations that outsource a variety of functions. Experts anticipate a continued shift away from
more permanent, lifetime jobs toward less permanent, even nonstandard employment relationships (e.g. self
employment) and work arrangements (such as distance work). 22
Digest of Education Statistics, 2003, op. cit.
Bronfenbrenner, Kate, “Organizing Women Workers in the Global Economy: Findings from NLRB Certification Elections – 1998-1999,” 2001.
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS News, USDL 01-153.
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS News, USDL 03-489.
Rand Labor and Population Research Brief, The Future at Work – Trends and Implications – drawn from Lynn A. Karoly and Constantijn W.A. Panis, The 21st
Century at Work: Shaping the Future Workforce and Workforce in the United States.
The changing character and conditions of work, and the resulting turbulence, have prompted increasing numbers of
professional and technical workers to turn to unions to defend or recapture their professional autonomy and to have a
say in the decisions that affect their work lives. Given this trend, the question is: What strategies must the labor
movement of the 21st century develop that respond to the changes in the world of work, including the rise of the
contingent work force?
In recognition of the profound change that globalization, technological innovation and other factors are having on the
professional and technical work force and work place, the DPE in 2004 created a Committee on the Evolution of
Professional Careers with representatives from nearly 20 national unions. The Committee’s goal is to:
• Review and analyze the trends affecting the future of white collar work;
• Ascertain the careers and professions that are likely to emerge over the next decade;
• Determine appropriate strategies necessary to organize these workers;
• Explore organizational models of unionism that offer the potential to enhance membership among professional
• Better prepare unions to align themselves with the work force of the future;
• Develop a consensus about appropriate public policy, bargaining strategies, organizing goals and tactics as
well as other courses of action essential to expanding union density in the professions.
Much discussion is underway regarding the need to merge and consolidate unions into a smaller number of more
effective national organizations. While mergers might make sense in certain sectors, they are not necessarily the
panacea for what ails the movement. For example, among professional unions, forcing “square pegs into round holes”
runs the risk of obliterating smaller unions that serve are labor’s vital link to various groups of white collar workers in
unique and highly specialized professions. This, in turn, could be disastrous to labor’s ability to expand its white collar
The 1955 consolidation of the AFL and CIO created a unified federation of some 871 affiliated national, state and local
organizations. Of these, 135 were national unions.23 By 1973 there were 113 affiliated unions. By the time John
Sweeney became President in 1995, there were 79 affiliated national unions. Today there are 59—less than 50% of the
original affiliations. The downsizing has been due principally to mergers—some 90 have occurred over the five-decade
history of the AFL-CIO, or nearly 2 on average per year. 24 Even as this contraction has occurred, America’s trade
unions have continued to hemorrhage members for a whole host of reasons unrelated to structure that well-known to
union leaders and members as well as students of the movement.
SAG and AFTRA—A Merger That Should Have Happened
In 2002 and 2003 the DPE was heavily involved in the internal efforts of the American Federation of Television and
Radio Artists (AFTRA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) to merge into one national union. These are two unions
with overlapping jurisdiction in the same industries and a substantial number of members who are in both unions: 60%
of AFTRA members are also in SAG and 40% of SAG members are members of AFTRA! Few, if any, unions
considering merger have ever been similarly situated.
The driving forces behind the merger movement was principally that the industries with which each had to confront
changed dramatically. Massive and seismic shifts in the legal and regulatory environment had eased the way for media
corporate conglomerates to do what they’ve always wanted to do: merge, acquire, and thereby build the size and power
to bulldoze all obstacles to maximizing profits. To illustrate, both unions negotiate major collective bargaining
agreements with the movie studios. Over the past two decades these entities have contracted from 29 studios to 6 and
the 6 behemoths have holdings in television, news media, recording companies and other related areas. Meanwhile, the
AFL-CIO, Proceedings of the 1955 Convention, December 5-8, 1955.
AFL-CIO, Executive Council Report of the 23d Convention, October 11-13, 1999.
rapid fire pace of technological change threatened these unions with potentially ruinous fights over jurisdiction–fights
among the family, rather than on behalf of all the family members.
The DPE was invited into the deliberations early on by the national leadership of both unions. DPE President Paul
Almeida has first-hand expertise with mergers (as the former president of IFPTE) as does DPE Assistant to the
President David Cohen. Over a period of many months, DPE worked closely with the 60 to 80 national leaders and
board members as well as local officers, rank and file members and staff of both organizations to analyze their
legislative, regulatory and industry contexts, and to develop a mutual consensus about a responsive and effective joint
structure. The AFL-CIO meanwhile committed significant support for such important resources as membership
polling, communication and voter outreach.
The final draft merger plan that was readied for a membership vote by both unions was a proactive initiative aimed at
providing more negotiating muscle, saving money and ending jurisdictional disputes. The plan would have
consolidated SAG and AFTRA into the new Alliance of International Media Artists (AIMA). This structure would
have built strength and power along occupational lines, while providing the overall protection for performers via
AIMA. The consolidation sought to serve the members by providing an efficient union to serve their goals and provide
opportunities for more work, better pay, and better benefits.
The final merger proposal was overwhelmingly approved by the national leadership and boards of both unions. The
only opposition came from a small but vocal contingent of Hollywood SAG members. But ultimately they succeeded
in scuttling the plan because the constitutions of both unions—not unlike those of other labor organizations—required
a super majority 60% vote to approve such a momentous change. In the voting that ensued, each union received a
record voter response: 53.97% of eligible SAG voters and 57.55% for AFTRA. While 75.88% of AFTRA members
favored consolidation, the SAG yes vote was 57.78%, 2.22% short of approval.
Ultimately, the undoing of two years of work by national SAG and AFTRA leaders, thousands of staff hours and an
investment of over a million dollars to do the right thing for these two unions was that old, dusty principle—union
Mergers—Cautions and Questions
Mergers in and of themselves do not and cannot guarantee growth. Many unions in the AFL-CIO today descend from
multiple predecessors–and still have fewer members than the original organizations when they merged. This history of
defensive mergers reflects economic shifts and dying industries, automation, globalization, and cultural, legal, and
regulatory changes, among other factors.
Reshaping union structures may or may not enhance our ability to organize. As the SAG/AFTRA saga reflects,
members may democratically choose an organizational or occupational identity over what outsiders perceive as an
increased likelihood of exerting collective strength. Moreover, an organizational or occupational identity may be key
to the ability of a union to attract new members. The proliferation of professional subspecialty organizations – among
nurses, for example – underscores this possibility.
The questions for labor are:
o Are the mergers we pursue strategic?
o Will they increase bargaining power, sector or occupational density, or organizing potential?
o Or are these mergers for survival in dying industries, likely to dilute the organizational identity that
attracted members originally without improving the resulting entity’s ability to meet the needs of its
Our belief is that the AFL-CIO can and should do everything in its power to assist unions in strategic mergers.
The Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE) was chartered by the AFL-CIO in 1977 at the request of
many unions, in recognition of the dramatic rise in professional and technical employees among union members. Over
a quarter of a century later, almost all of the original founding unions still voluntarily choose to affiliate with and
support the Department in its activities. The bottom line is that DPE exists to respond to the needs of its affiliates and
for no other purpose.
The Department’s primary mission is to promote the unionization of professional, technical and administrative support
workers and assist the efforts of its affiliates to organize and represent them. In addition, the DPE supplements this
major objective with a myriad of other core functions that are articulated in the Department’s Mission Statement
(attached). Today the DPE represents 25 unions comprising more than four million professional, technical and
administrative support employees. The Department is the largest association of such workers in the U.S.
Like the other “trades departments,” DPE unites unions with common interests and goals and creates a forum for
affiliated unions to discuss and cooperate on issues of mutual concern. Within this forum DPE affiliates find a safe
harbor within which policy, strategy and other needs and issues can be discussed openly and frankly. This comfort
zone allows differences to be articulated and resolved, policy devised and decisions made expeditiously. In this role,
many affiliates look to the Department both for leadership on the issues and to act as an intermediary between and
among them as well as with the AFL-CIO.
Out of these deliberations, the DPE periodically emerges as the lead AFL-CIO affiliated labor organization in certain
policy areas such as the recent battles with the FCC and Congress over media ownership rules and on legislation
related to professional guest worker visas. The Department developed the Federation’s policy on these issues; later the
AFL-CIO itself provided key public policy and lobbying assistance. In other policy areas that have broad implications
for unions in and outside of the DPE, the policy is advanced from the Department and its affiliates to the AFL-CIO
which then makes it a major priority and assigns an array of resources to it. The recent congressional battle over
overtime pay is an example of this collaboration.
Another case in point is the off shore outsourcing of white collar jobs. The issue was highlighted by DPE staff for its
General Board leadership, made a public policy priority by the board for the Department and moved forward to the
AFL-CIO. Today the Federation and DPE partner on several legislative fronts to combat this problem. Since the issue
hit the American scene full force at the end of 2003 the DPE—with the help of the AFL-CIO—has been the voice of
labor and, more broadly, professional workers in the public media on the guest worker and off shoring debates. The
Department has appeared in nearly two dozen TV and radio interviews, been quoted in over 40 print and electronic
news articles including some of the nation’s largest daily newspapers and has debated the issue at major universities
including Harvard, MIT, George Mason and the University of Maryland.
On another issue, DPE researched and developed reports and analyses as well as authored fact sheets and other
materials which have helped shape the AFL-CIO Nurse Staffing campaign. DPE research reports on women and the
professional work force are other examples.
Finally, the Department also provides support to affiliates on issues of more parochial concern to its members. Its work
on intellectual property and other telecommunications and immigration matters of a narrower scope are examples of
this. And from time to time the Department also engages the AFL-CIO on these concerns as well.
From the Federation’s generous support for the SAG/AFTRA merger campaign, to its close working
relationship on legislative and regulatory matters, to its receptivity and teamwork on the development of public
policy, the DPE and the AFL-CIO have a unique and creative partnership. Still there is room for improvement
as well as collaboration on the overarching issue of recasting labor’s image as an institution that represents,
works for and defends the rights of white collar workers.
Hurdles, Impediments and Other Unnecessary Obstacles
White collar workers are a major component of the total union membership represented by AFL-CIO unions. But that
is perhaps the best kept secret about the modern American labor movement. From its public relations program to its
internal communications to political messaging and investment of resources as well as in certain public policy areas,
you’d be hard pressed to identify the AFL-CIO as a bastion of the professional and technical workforce.
Case in point: The issue of off shore outsourcing of American white collar jobs. No issue presented the labor
movement with a better opportunity to loudly proclaim that white collar workers matter. But when the issue first hit the
nation’s economy with hurricane force beginning in the fall of 2003, where was the AFL-CIO?—fully engaged and
investing significant staff, financial, public relations, grassroots and other resources in the Immigrant Workers
Freedom Ride. That’s not to say that defending immigrant workers rights isn’t the right thing to do but why wasn’t
there an equal investment in and concern about domestic white collar workers who were being ravaged by both off
shore outsourcing and the guest worker tidal wave? When the Executive Council adopted the comprehensive policy
statement on off shore outsourcing statement in early 2004, it should have been the kickoff to a sustained and very
public campaign against this threat to American white collar jobs. But the Federation’s efforts—which have been
considerable particularly at the state level—are almost unknown outside the house of labor. And in another footnote to
lost opportunities, early efforts by the DPE to engage the AFL-CIO with MoneyLine’s Lou Dobbs, who is now
considered the foremost pro-worker spokesman on the issue of the export of American jobs, were initially met with
resistance because his views on the immigration issue were viewed as politically incorrect.
Complicating the matter is the perception that the labor movement is in fact far more concerned about undocumented
workers than protecting incumbent professionals, many of whom are unemployed. Another case in point: In August of
2003 when the AFL-CIO adopted the much delayed statement on H-1B/L-1 visa reform—an issue of paramount
concern to the largely unorganized private sector IT workers throughout the country—the issue was buried within the
AFL-CIO public relations and information structure even as the DPE was working hard to impress a group of two
dozen tech worker organizations that labor was on their side. Contrast that with the ballyhoo that has attended
statements regarding legalization, amnesty and other related matters. The discomfort of some affiliates that the guest
worker position was somehow inconsistent with collateral policy on immigrant rights or that limiting professional
guest workers might offend some erstwhile “allies” on this issue and was therefore inappropriate clearly got the upper
hand. In fact, despite assurances that the policy statement itself—which had been presented at the 2003 Executive
Council meeting—would be finalized in short order by the AFL-CIO’s Immigration Committee, it actually took five
months and the intervention of the CWA, IFPTE and eventually AFL-CIO President Sweeney to get the Committee to
finish its work. This inexcusable delay resulted in the statement being issued three weeks after the Senate held hearings
on L-1 visa abuses. These actions were counterproductive to the ongoing efforts of DPE unions to reach out to,
connect with and organize tech and other workers adversely impacted by the guest worker visa issue.
Doing It Better
Institutionally the leadership, affiliates and staff of the AFL-CIO need to understand the importance of professionals
within the current structure as well as to the future growth of the AFL-CIO. In short, the collective consciousness
needs to be elevated substantially. The American labor movement must defend the rights of oppressed workers
whether they are low skill, undocumented employees, exploited because of who they are, or highly educated IT and
other professionals made jobless by off shore outsourcing. As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said in his speech to
the 1997 DPE convention “If the labor movement is to grow as it should—and as it must—it will be organizing
millions more professional and technical workers.” The labor movement, he said “must relate to the concerns of the
new majority of workers.”
As AFL-CIO structure, organization, activities and programs are examined, we recommend that the collaborative
efforts of the AFL-CIO and the DPE expand to include more areas and that this partnership be made broader and
bolder. At the same time, the Federation must profile itself as a bastion of advocacy for the millions of professional,
technical and administrative support workers. Some suggestions and commentary follow:
Public Relations
Internal—the publications of the Federation need more news, features and photos of professional
and technical workers. The DPE receives all of the publications of its affiliates and could assist the
AFL-CIO in identifying relevant content for coverage by the AFL-CIO;
General messaging—Part of the effort to tell the story of labor’s professionals should link the work
of these union workers to the welfare of the rest of the labor movement and to the general public.
Organizing and Outreach to Professionals
DPE Organizing Conference—This March 2005 event will draw top-level organizing expertise and
white collar organizers from among many DPE affiliates. The AFL-CIO will be funding key research
in advance of the conference. This example of collaboration, particularly as it relates to white collar
professionals, should be expanded.
The pre-professionals—A successful DPE program now puts high-level union professionals into
tailor-made outreach programs on college campuses to communicate the value of union membership
to pre-professionals. We need to change the culture by ensuring that young people learn about the
value of union membership to themselves, their professions, and their communities. AFL-CIO
funding—perhaps through the organizing fund in conjunction with DPE affiliates—could greatly
expand the reach of this program. After all, we know where tomorrow’s professionals are today—
they’re on the campuses of colleges, universities and the two-year community colleges. Again, the
right wing has realized the importance of such outreach and spends vast sums to influence the hearts
and minds of young Americans on campus.
Outreach to professional associations/societies—The DPE currently interacts with several professional
associations including the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE)—the largest
engineering society—the American Public Health Association (APHA) which represents more than
60,000 public health workers, and the American Library Association (ALA), which represents more
than 60,000 library workers. We also interact regularly with the National Council of Women’s
Organizations, an umbrella organization for 200 organizations collectively representing some 10
million women. To a lesser degree, the DPE interacts with numerous other associations and societies
representing professional and technical workers, developing relationships with key officers and staff,
involving them in legislative efforts, disseminating our research and other information, involving them
in our programs and events, and having a presence at theirs. The labor movement needs to develop a
larger presence with these organizations that represent millions of American professionals,
reaching out both to collaborate on key issues and to recruit members. The Federation and DPE
should develop an expansive initiative in this area as well.
Public Policy
Examples include the teachers’ fight for smaller classrooms (that improves the educational
performance of children); the nurses’ fight for lower patient loads (that improves the quality of health
care for patients); and the firefighters’ campaign to put more professionals in the fire stations (and
thereby better safeguard the public safety);
AFL-CIO leadership statements should, where appropriate, include references to professional and
other white collar union members;
Polling—Survey samples should include appropriate occupational balance as well as timely issue
questions relevant to professionals;
Policy statements—affecting white collar workers need to be highlighted in press statements and
Press events—From time to time the Federation needs to create events that focus on professionals.
For example, either at an Executive Council or at the Press Club an event featuring women
professionals who have been outsourced would likely draw substantial press attention.
The College Press—colleges and universities are the training ground for the next generation of white
collar workers. The right wing already provides millions of dollars in support for the college press.
There may be value in creating a labor link to the college/university press as a method for getting
out the message about what today’s labor movement is doing for tomorrow’s professionals.
Outside Research—during the fight in the Maryland legislature over anti-outsourcing legislation, the
AFL-CIO Public Policy staff provided—at DPE’s request—a rapid response to an industry statement
opposing the labor-backed state legislation. However, a more substantial industry analysis extolling
the economic virtues of outsourcing for the U.S. economy that received much press attention went
unanswered. The AFL-CIO could underwrite or contract with outside research organizations to
undertake this kind of more detailed analysis on these and other such industry screeds.
Labor Education
Efforts by the DPE to continue and expand a three-year program on organizing in the professions that
had been supported by the then George Meany Center (now National Labor College) were undermined
when the NLC leadership and staff insisted that the course content would have to be revised to suit
their inclinations on what should be taught or NLC support would be minimized. DPE cancelled the
program following this disagreement. At least one other DPE affiliate also discontinued its local union
leadership education program at the College for the same reason.
The focus of the National Labor College has shifted dramatically from general labor education to a
degree-issuing institution. Many members of DPE unions already have undergraduate and advanced
degrees. They don’t need another degree but rather core labor education courses. Today of the 31
courses offered in this regard, 22 might be relevant to the leaders of professional local unions. This is
significantly lower than the number of courses available a decade earlier. What is the Center’s gameplan for addressing the training needs of leaders of professional unions?
Political Messaging
Media Rights Campaign--The three-year effort of the DPE and its media unions to expose the FCC
and its pro-media monopoly deregulation has set the stage for a broader effort to attack media giants
particularly conservative corporations like Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Network, Clear Channel and
Sinclair Broadcasting. The anti-FCC campaign has stirred widespread citizen opposition against
broadcast entities that could care less about localism, i.e. local news, public affairs and the
communities which they serve. In fact at local forums sponsored by the FCC, the overall effort to
“raise hell” with the agency over deregulation garnered substantial and favorable local press in a
media markets where the local labor movement is often ignored, activated local labor councils into this
campaign, solidified our alliances particularly at the local level with an array of public interest media
reform groups and energized an army of over 500 local media reform activists. This, combined with
the revulsion over the pro-Bush 2004 election antics of Sinclair and others, provides organized labor
with an opportunity to mobilize on an even broader scale “media rights” campaign that resonates even
within the “red states”. The stakes for all of organized labor are enormous—the ability to get
news coverage and tell our story in the popular media. The Federation should explore strategies
for larger scale mobilization on this issue.
White Collar Off shore Outsourcing—Considerable efforts are underway at the state level to restrict
the off shore outsourcing of state procurement contracts. The AFL-CIO has provided significant
support to state federations in this regard. This effort should be expanded to labor councils as well.
Few issues resonate as clearly with unorganized professionals as this one does. In addition, given
widespread public concern about the continued export of American jobs contrasted with the
GOP’s use of the state initiative process to create “wedge issues” that drive electoral turnout,
consideration should be given to targeted state and local ballot campaigns to ban off shore
outsourcing of procurement contracts.
Issues—in the 2000 election, then Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI)—a one-term incumbent—was
involved in the fight of his political life. Abraham had been the chief architect of legislation to expand
the H-1B program in 1998 and again in 2000. A memo from the DPE to the then AFL-CIO political
director suggesting how a message around this issue could be crafted and aimed at GOP union
members to persuade them to vote against Abraham went unanswered. Abraham lost his re-election
bid and his advocacy for more guest workers was a big reason why. Obviously a “niche” message
along the lines that was suggested by the Department also could have aided and abetted his defeat.
Working America—we are told that the many names collected as part of this outreach effort cannot be
broken down by occupational category. The data collection methodology needs to be corrected so
that this universe can be segmented and reached with specific and relevant messages for
organizing, lobbying, political and other purposes.
The AFL-CIO FCC filing during agency rule-making on media ownership rules (via their Public
Policy Department) was extremely helpful and well received by our media unions. This activity could
be ramped up in other areas. For example, the Federation is considering aligning itself with these same
unions in the forthcoming Supreme Court case on illegal downloading of movies and sound
There have been several legal actions filed by aggrieved tech workers regarding employer abuse of the
H-1B visas and subsequent displacement of American professionals. The Federation should consider
what assistance is appropriate in these circumstances.
When seminal cases are filed regarding the rights of professional workers, the Federation should—
where appropriate—file or join amicus briefs in these proceedings and publicize these actions.
AFL-CIO budget—as allocations for activities are apportioned, some thought should be given as to
how programmatic investments can positively impact labor’s white collar membership and/or grow the
The Department for Professional Employees appreciates the opportunity to participate in the debate that is occurring
within the labor movement about the future direction of the AFL-CIO. We believe, however, that this discussion must
be about much more than just the structure and programs of the Federation. If, in the final analysis, that’s all it is, then
we’ve squandered a critical opportunity to address an even larger issue.
Collective action is at the core of what we, as a labor movement, are all about. Every union leader knows that the
success of any collective action, whether it is organizing, bargaining or mobilization, depends upon a precise
understanding of who the target audience is that we’re trying to reach. The current debate offers organized labor the
chance to recognize that the audience has fundamentally changed and that survival depends upon our ability to adapt to
that change.
Organizing the millions of current and future professional employees is essential to the survival of our labor movement
and its ability to regain its standing as a dynamic and forceful advocate for all working Americans. In this regard, ways
and means must be found for AFL-CIO to identify more closely with the concerns and aspirations of the growing
professional and technical work force. The DPE and its affiliated unions look forward to working with the AFL-CIO
to achieve that outcome.
The Department for Professional Employees (DPE) is a coalition of 25 national unions affiliated with the
AFL-CIO which represent over four million highly skilled, white-collar employees. DPE unions include
professionals in over three hundred separate and distinct occupations in many sectors including: health care
and education; science, engineering and technology; journalism; entertainment and the arts; public
administration and law enforcement. The DPE is the largest association of professional, technical and
administrative support workers in the U.S.
The mission of DPE is to:
Unite those AFL-CIO unions that represent professional workers and which have similar interests and
Create a forum for affiliated unions to discuss and cooperate on issues of mutual concern;
Promote the unionization of professional, technical and administrative support workers and support
the efforts of DPE affiliates to organize and represent them;
Provide research, education, training, and other assistance to affiliated unions supporting their
organizing, bargaining, and servicing objectives;
Advance a public policy agenda in federal and state government that enhances the economic security,
well-being and status of professionals;
Educate pre-professionals, the public and the media about the prominent role of union professionals
within our nation and the labor movement;
Build alliances with non-union associations and societies that also promote the interests of these
Enhance the profile and visibility of professionals within the labor movement;
Advocate for this constituency within the decision-making councils of the AFL-CIO;
Engage in other appropriate activities that further these goals and are consistent with AFL-CIO
DPE is one of seven constitutional “trades” departments that are part of the AFL-CIO structure. It was
chartered by the Federation in 1977 in recognition of the remarkable increase in professional and technical
employees occurring at that time among union members. Since then, that growth has accelerated as
America’s “the world of work” transitions even more dramatically from blue to white collar. Today, the
community of professional workers within organized labor is now a near majority of the 14.3 million
member AFL-CIO.
In this environment, as more professionals seek union representation, the work of the DPE will be essential
to expanding the reach of DPE unions among professional and technical workers as well as to the vitality,
diversification, and future of the American labor movement.