A record 66,000 new white-collar workers joined unions in 2002, and their fast-growing ranks in organized labor are projected to swell to more than 11 million strong by 2010, according to a fresh AFL-CIO report.
Now numbering more than six million, unionized professional, technical and administrative support workers comprise nearly half of the AFL-CIO's membership of 13 million, the federation's Department for Professional Employees outlined in its recent study, "Rising Tide: Professionals: The New Face of America's Unions."
New white-collar union recruits accounted for almost 30% of the overall rise in AFL-CIO membership in 2002, their growth outpacing all other occupational groups within the federation, including the building and construction, hospitality and service sectors, according to the report.
"The movement is no longer just an economic safe haven for the blue collar and service workers that once dominated the institution. It is, more and more, the destination of choice for professional workers seeking fairness, equity and a voice on the job", says the study.
Noting that professionals have sought union protections for more than a century, the study found that the accelerated numbers of recent years appear to be driven by the dominance of multinational corporations and health maintenance organizations as employers, where workers have fewer possibilities, "'To exercise independent judgment", as well as by the Bush administration's relentless assault on workers.
Union representation can give these employees a voice both at work and in government, the study says.
White collar workers, such as nurses, doctors, teachers, engineers, attorneys, musicians, journalists and even forest rangers, now account for 60% of the overall U.S. workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Altogether, the professional specialties' organizing growth rate last year was a remarkable 19.2%. If that continues, the 2002 new union membership level of 6,462,000 could expand to nearly 11,500,000 in 2010, according to the DPE.
The AFL-CIO recognizes how important white-collar workers will be to the future of the labor movement, the report notes. Just this year, the federation launched the Wellstone Award, named after the late Minnesota senator and tireless champion of labor, to acknowledge public advocacy in support of workers by an elected official. The inaugural award went to former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who, along with Senator Patrick Leahy, pressed hard for union representation for some 1,300 nurses in the state's largest hospital system.