Professionals put out the welcome mat for unions

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Most of America's working professionals support the idea of union representation in their workplaces, according to a poll released last week. The scientific survey of 1,000 nonunion working people across professions found that more than half of them look favorably on labor unions.

Technology professional

Sponsored by the AFL-CIO's Department for Professional Employees and conducted by Hart Research Associates, the online poll was taken in October. Major findings include:

  • 56 percent of professionals surveyed approve of having a union at their workplace.
  • 61 percent support coming together in a union to receive better salaries and raises.
  • More than half say union representation would improve their salaries and benefits.

"We are a union of professionals, so we are happy to shout it from the rooftops: Professionals don't need to work in isolation," says Mary Cathryn Ricker, AFT executive vice president and chair of the AFT Task Force on Professionalism. "Professionals deserve a raise and a voice on the job. Of course, unions are the best way to make that happen."

Improving wages has become more important to professionals over the past decade. The survey found that better pay is now the most convincing reason for professionals to consider joining a union; it was not a top factor when they were surveyed in 2005.

There's also opportunity to cultivate union support because most professionals who disapprove of unions don't feel strongly about it.

What they do feel strongly about is having a voice, says Jan Hochadel, president of AFT Connecticut and an AFT vice president, adding that all employees need to be consulted in decisions on their areas of expertise. "When our professional employees are able to express their concerns and opinions," she says, "not only is their work experience improved, but their clients and customers benefit."

The survey results are impressive, adds PSRP leader Robert Chacanaca, a school security officer in Santa Cruz, Calif., member of the AFT's professionalism task force and president of the 63-union Monterey Bay Central Labor Council.

The more students learn about labor history at school, the more they'll warm to unions later on, he says. Chacanaca points to an influx of computer technicians coming from the private sector to work in public schools and colleges, where they discover to their delight that they have more job stability, better pay and more benefits in a unionized environment.

"People need to know what unions are and what we can do to help them," he says. "The more information the AFL-CIO can get out to the professional community, the more likely you'll see the unionization of rank-and-file professionals."

The Department for Professional Employees, a coalition of 22 unions representing more than 4 million professional and technical union members, will continue to analyze its survey results and release new reports every two weeks. DPE affiliates represent professionals in over 300 occupations, including education and healthcare; science, engineering and technology; and public administration.

[Annette Licitra/photo by Armando Arorizo]