Why Join a Union for Professionals?
As a professional, your employer depends on you to take on important responsibilities. You have unique skills and training to take on complex and sensitive roles. Your work is usually self-directed and often requires that you direct others and advise the employer on appropriate courses of action. Often your decisions and actions affect the security and well being of others. You follow your professional code, and do what it takes to get the job done right.
It's hard to understand why you don't always get the respect you deserve in the workplace. Senior management has to run the place, that's true, but shouldn't they also listen to the professionals who have the expertise to get the work done?
Professionals face many employment problems every day:
- Lack of job security
- Lack of salary protection
- Inconsistent treatment
- Lack of say in scheduling
- Lack of recognition for overtime
- No say in hiring or promotion
- No coherent voice in dealing with the employer
- No impartial process for resolving complaints
- No protection against unfair treatment
The workplace has become an increasingly more demanding and tenuous place for professionals. How did this come about, particularly at a time when “intellectual workers” are supposed to be gaining importance in our economy?
The Professional Workplace Has Changed
Professional employees have faced unique problems during the restructuring of work over the last decade. Many professional positions have disappeared either through lay-off or attrition as management ranks have been flattened. Those professionals who remain in the workplace have seen their workloads skyrocket. They're not only doing the work of departed colleagues in addition to their own work, but the demand for professional services is also increasing as the economy becomes more information-based and large corporations and institutions encourage their departments to become more "entrepreneurial."
Meanwhile, new professionals entering the workforce can't find secure employment. Term contracts are the order of the day with employers unwilling to make long term commitments to employees, even though it's not uncommon for contracts to be renewed for ten or more consecutive years. Professional employees not only find themselves in more demanding positions but also face increasing pressure to keep themselves current and valued.
Despite the trends, many professional employees still believe that individual or collegial relations with the employer are most appropriate to professional values. Those values include personal responsibility for work and assignments, independence of action and judgment, and an abiding commitment to a professional code and duties. Unionism is dismissed as a mode of relations that emphasizes collective action rather than individual responsibility, replaces independent judgment with executive or mass decision making, and sacrifices professional responsibility to the picket line.
With the PEA representing groups of accredited professionals, this is simply not true anymore.
Unions Complement Professional Values
A union can address these problems and enhance professional values in the workplace. The core principles of unionism are consistent with professionalism. Both movements can trace part of their histories to the guild movements where workers with particular sets of skills in common joined together both to protect their control over those skills and to protect their economic position. Many professional codes, for instance, indicate that members have a duty to see that they are adequately compensated for their work.
Professional values also reflect an industrial era when the norm was for professionals to be self-employed or associated with firms who contracted with larger companies or institutions. As professions have become more established and corporations and institutions have become increasingly dependent on the intellectual capabilities of professionals, professionals have increasingly moved from contractual to employment relationships.
While many employers did respect professional skills and values, competitive pressures to reduce costs, increase flexibility, and maximize profits have left little room for that respect to be demonstrated in employment relations. As a result, professional positions in many workplaces do not allow for the same self-direction, control, and independence of judgment that were once the hallmarks of professionalism.