The Transformation of the Professional Workforce
61 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2002
Date Written: September 2002
For professionals, work constitutes personal identity and confers a relatively privileged class status. Professionals have historically claimed an entitlement to autonomy at work and a privilege to self-regulate through codes of ethics enforced by professional peers. As relatively powerful workers, most professionals shunned union membership because it was perceived as the antithesis of professional privilege, values and status. Recently, however, professionals have been joining unions in record numbers: physicians, interns and residents, graduate students, legal services lawyers, and even administrative law judges have sought the protection of unions, and both the AMA and the ABA now endorse unionization for their members. This paper examines the market forces which have contributed to this trend, and argues that the transformation of the professional class from a self-employed group to salaried employee status has subjected professionals to traditional strategies of managerial control, namely ideological and technical de-skilling. The threat to professionals' privilege and identity is, I suggest, the impetus for organizing. The paper also assesses recent Supreme Court doctrine which threatens to obliterate the coverage of professionals under the National Labor Relations Act, and suggests a reconceptualization of professional status as a commodity collectively owned by the profession which entails control over the labor process. Focusing on the loss of key atttributes of professional status is key to defining professionals as covered employees under the Act rather than as excluded supervisors: in effect, modern managerial strategies are deprofessionalizing the professions.
Keywords: Labor law, unions, professionalism
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