Professional associations or unions? A comparative look.
Looking at the white collar working class, Mills (1951) explains that,
before the twentieth century, American life was characterized by a decentralized
economic life, directed predominately by the interests of private
ownership. The two primary economic forces which guided the capitalistic
system of the country by the end of the nineteenth century were the
independent farmer and the small businessman. At that time, in their
small isolated world, these two working groups of men were separate economic
entities struggling for survival and improvement of individual property.
With the coming of the twentieth century, society experienced a dramatic
change. Previously, small enterprises began merging into big corporations,
while government, faced with new tasks, became much more
elaborate and complex. The eventual result of this change was the removal
of the members of the old middle class from their isolated worlds
and into a bureaucratic and complex system in which occupation instead
of property became the main source of income. The American middle
class, composed now mainly of white-collar workers, found itself in a
centralized economic system in which people's interaction and interdependence
were central and brought a stronger awareness of each other (Mills,
According to Sherif and Sherif (1969), the presence of organized
groups is a consequence of interacting individuals "who possess a set of
values or norms of their own regulating their behavior, at least in matters
of consequence to the group" (p. 131). In the case of white-collar workers,
group organization often took the form of either professional associations
or unions, both of them representing the special interests and
objectives of this class of employees. Although both labor unions and
professional societies already existed in the nineteenth century, it was in
the last hundred years when both of them managed to successfully attract
a large number of individuals and legitimize themselves as a means to
pursue the interests of their membership.
According to Haug and Sussman (1973): "Unionization and
professionalization are two processes by which members of an occupation
seek to achieve collective upward mobility" (p. 89). This is analogous,
the authors explain, to an individual's striving to improve his pay,
working conditions, autonomy, and status, the only difference being that,
whereas individual efforts can be easily hindered, collective efforts are
often seen as a more effective way of dealing with similar issues. However,
although labor unions and professional associations offer an alternative
in improving a profession's status, they are often seen as antithetical
especially when it comes to their culture, motives for joined action,
and the particular values they ultimately promulgate.
A CULTURE OF INTEGRATION AND CONFLICT
According to Parsons (1969), associations join different social institutions
that would otherwise threaten the integrity of modem society if
each individual pursued his own self interest. Functionalism, the theory
Parsons subscribes to, holds that associations have the ability to bring
order by providing a consensual normative structure--i.e., agreed-upon
values--which direct the behavior of individuals according to what is defined
as proper, legal, or acceptable by the rest of the community. Referring
specifically to what they called occupational community, Van Maanen
and Barley (1984) described it as "a group of people who consider themselves
to be engaged in the same sort of work; whose identity is drawn
from the work; [and] who share with one another a set of values, norms
and perspectives" (p. 287).
Professional associations ascribe to a culture of consensual collective
efforts to preserve a profession's unified front. As Galaskiewicz (1985)
notes, "one of the latent functions of professional associations is to put
people together in committees, panels, task forces, and study groups who
might not otherwise be attracted to one another based on
their background characteristics alone" (p. 640). A consequence of such
interactions is the establishment of a unified culture for the profession,
the institutionalization of professional codes of contact, establishment of
educational and performance standards, and the diffusion and incorporation
of change and innovation within the profession. In the library
field, for example, professional associations have provided a shared sense
of professional identity just as an increasing number of subspecialties and
variety of work settings have emerged.
Although integration has been credited as one of the main characteristics
of the professional association's culture, labor unions have often
been charged with quite the opposite. The presence of union groups is
often treated as the result of conflict of interests between management
and workers. The charge has repeatedly been made that such organizations
split the profession, dissociating people and institutions.
Galaskiewicz (1985) explains that, particularly in times of uncertainty,
"professionals will seek out those with whom they can communicate easily,
even if this means that they systematically segregate themselves from a
subset of other actors in the group" (p. 646). White-collar labor unions
sprang up as a reaction to a search for occupational justice and improvement
of working conditions among the rank-and-file of a profession who
differentiated themselves from management even within the same occupation.
Moreover, interest groups such as unions do not only represent
the interests and values of their members, but they also make demands
against the status quo of the authorities and cultivate among their membership
a feeling of "us" against "them."
Despite charges that unions are the cause of segregation and hostility
in a profession, conflict of interests may be inevitable even within a
profession that tries hard to keep its unity. Although among professionals
the differentiation between management and rank-and-file is not quite
as clear as among blue-collar workers, it still exists despite similarities
in training and occupational identity. Managerial employees in professional
institutions are still the ones who control the allocation of resources such
as salaries, "but more important for work, differential resources to the
various units of the organization, resources of supporting staff, physical
space, equipment, and the like" (Freidson, 1987, p. 3). Rank-and-file
professionals may provide their input, but it is the administration that
ultimately makes allocation decisions and determines what work is to be
done and how it is to be done. This differentiation in power implies that
managerial employees may support interests and goals which could be
different from those of rank-and-file practitioners and, as a consequence,
it becomes a frequent cause of friction between these two classes of
professional employees (Freidson, 1986).
Dahrendorf's (1959) theory of conflict explains that authority relations,
independent of the personality of people involved, are the cause of
potential clashes of interest between those with decision-making power
and those who are subject to it. Under certain conditions, these clashes
generate the formation of interest groups, such as unions, which attempt
to modify the characteristics of this relationship and improve the status
of their membership. Specifically, the transformation of a collectivity of
individuals to an interest group is, for Dahrendorf, possible only under
certain conditions: (1) "technical conditions," such as the presence of
leadership as well as ideology for the articulation of the group's interest;
(2) "political conditions," or the political permissibility for group
organization (in the case of unions, this implies, for instance' state laws
allowing collective bargaining); and (3) "social conditions," that is, the
degree of communication between the members of a potential interest group.
The ultimate function of conflict is change and, as Dahrendorf (1959)
believes, integration. As he explains, "we cannot conceive of society, unless
we realize the dialectics of stability and change, integration and conflict,
function and motive force, consensus and coercion" (p. 163). Taking
this perspective, one may argue that the labor movement provides an
alternative approach to integration within a profession, one which recognizes
differences based on power relations and incorporates changes by
recognizing the special interests of rank-and-file and their need to improve
their status. Despite the fact that conflict is often perceived as
harmful to a relationship, it may actually stabilize it by providing an
opportunity for negotiations. As Simmel (1955) argues: "Conflict is designed to
resolve divergent dualisms; it is a way of achieving some kind of unity....
[and resolve] the tension between contrasts" (p. 13).
Research has provided support that the fears about the effect of unionization
on the employees' loyalty to management are not substantiated.
According to Dean (1954), some people believe that, because of the conflict
of interest between rank-and-file and management, unionized workers
tend to identify less with the employing organization. These ideas
have been challenged repeatedly by research evidence which supports
that "dual allegiance" to the union and management is indeed possible
(for example, see Rose, 1952; Dean. 1954; Stagner, 1954; Purcell, 1960;
Fukami & Larson, 1982; Angle & Perry, 1986; Martin, 1981; Gallagher,
1984; Hovekamp, 1994a). A recent study among unionized librarians in
research institutions revealed that, although union presence had a statistically
significant negative relation to overall organizational loyalty,
union commitment was positively related to organizational commitment. This
finding suggested that professionals who view unions as a positive presence
to their welfare may also use them as an outlet to resolve their negative
feelings and, as a result, strengthen their ties with management
Both professional associations and unions have the ability to help a
profession communicate and stay cohesive by recognizing both commonalities
and differences. Whereas associations bring the profession outside
the arena of individual institutions and work environments and unite
it on the basis of common knowledge and expertise, unionization acknowledges
distinctions in power and interests as these are determined
by the position each professional occupies in his work organization.
Consequently, one may approach these two interest groups as an opportunity
for integration in a professional community which can take advantage of
both its similarities and differences to promote internal unity.
MOTIVES FOR COLLECTIVE ACTION
According to popular opinion, the reasons why professionals choose
to join professional associations are different from those for joining a
union. On the one hand, the goals of professional associations presumably
reflect an emphasis on public goods. In the library field, these are
represented by issues such as access to information, intellectual freedom,
copyright rights, literacy, and technology awareness and advancement.
Professional issues, such as the improvement of the occupation's standards
and expertise, are also central concerns. Furthermore, as Alexander
(1980) notes, "the professional association lays claim first and foremost
to autonomy and independence on the job" (p. 477). Unions, on the
other hand, are assumed to be mainly interested in the membership's
private benefits, mainly economic, and perpetuate an impression for professional
employees as dependent workers with limited control over their
In his classic book The Logic of Collective Action, Mancur Olson (1965)
was among the first sociologists to argue that the pursuit of the public
good is not a strong enough motivator to draw an individual to an interest
group. By public good, Olson meant benefits that are available to
everyone, regardless of their membership in an interest group. Private
and material benefits, on the other hand, he said, are essential in attracting
members and keeping their commitment to their group organization.
Although the primacy of the public good and the service ideal are
focal points in motivating professionals to pool their resources, professional
associations often have to appeal to the individual's interest in
private benefits by providing exclusive services ranging from placement services
to dissemination of information through journals, newsletters, or
conferences. A recent study among university librarians in California
provided empirical evidence that indeed personal interests are a strong
motivator for joining professional associations. Based on the results of a
survey, it was found that a large number of respondents indicated that
some of the most important reasons for joining and participating in professional
associations included networking with others in the profession,
subscription to journals which accompany membership, having an opportunity
for personal input in setting the goals of the profession, and
also the fact that membership can play an important role in job reappointment
and promotion (Anderson et al., 1992).
The rhetoric of "service" and "standards" that professional associations
use to attract their members has also been under attack as "potentially
elitist," compelling the professional to identify more with a "community
of one's peers" rather than the client and his actual concerns (Haug
& Sussman, 1973, pp. 91-92). Referring specifically to library professionals,
Estabrook (1981) commented: "The more we seek to establish our
expertise, the more we become resistant to community control" (p. 126).
Alexander (1980) adds to these charges by characterizing the language
of service and public good as pretentious and as obscuring the professionals'
desire for higher economic gain:
At an ideal level, professionals stress the primacy of the public good,
whereas unions stress the primacy of private benefit. However, by
definition, professionals are not as immune to financial lure as their
rhetoric of service might imply. In fact, financial success and high
prestige are inevitable and necessary requisites of full-fledged
professional status. Though generally masked in professional rhetoric,
substantial financial gain is indispensable to assure professional status.
Unions are indeed quite open in pursuing the private financial concerns
of their membership. One of the main forces in union activity is
improving salaries, benefits, hours, and working conditions, and for that
unions are continuously engaged in "an open dialogue of rights, demands,
grievances, needs, and privileges" (Haug & Sussman, 1973, p. 97). However,
professional associations also strive for their membership's upward
mobility and economic rewards; instead of presenting this as a clear agenda
item, they try to accomplish their goal indirectly by attempting to improve
the image of the profession and persuade the public of how valuable
and indispensable are the knowledge and special skills of the practitioners.
In other words, whereas unions tend to be more specific and
immediate in the pursuit of the members' private goals, a professional
association "deals more at the level of broad public relations" (Alexander,
1980, p. 478).
The opportunity to network and have free access to information in a
community of colleagues has attracted a lot of membership to professional
associations. As Galaskiewicz (1985) notes, approaching professional
groups as networks "is appealing, because professionals supposedly
have considerable work autonomy and are well insulated from bureaucratic
controls" (p. 639). Despite a profession's desire to see itself
depending on professional networks rather than on bureaucratic organizations,
however, there is quite strong evidence that the professional
worker is not as autonomous as he would wish to be. In reality a majority
of professions have already lost their independence, and instead they have
to operate within the constraints of large or small organizations. Haug
and Sussman (1973) note:
Private practice as a style of professional work is rapidly disappearing,
while many new and emergent professions have never practiced
in anything except a bureaucratic setting. Under these circumstances,
it is a particular bureaucratic structure, not some vague public
or segment of public, which must be dealt with, and from which
money, autonomy, and other perquisites must be extracted. (p. 92)
The disappearance of the "free professional" has troubled the sociological
literature for quite a while. One extreme reaction to this concern
was reflected in the claim of proletarianization theorists that all workers,
including professionals, eventually lose control over their work and find
themselves at the mercy of an administration which works for the interest
of capital. The same theorists believe that the ultimate consequences of
this transformation are the identification of the professional with the
blue-collar worker and the formation of one social class of proletarians with
shared views and interests (Greenwald, 1978).
Although proletarianization theorists carried their argument to the
extreme, work autonomy among professionals should not be taken for
granted. In his book Professional Powers, Eliot Freidson (1986) argues
that professionals have considerable "technical autonomy," that is, latitude
in using discretion and judgment for the performance of their day-to-day
work without being constantly supervised and under immediate
direction by others. They also have an important influence in policy
making, and they may even be responsible for organizing, coordinating,
or supervising others in their unit. In addition, those employed in the
service sector have gatekeeping power and the power to provide or withhold
services or goods to clients on behalf of the employing institution.
These tasks are not managerial tasks but tasks which characterize discretionary
work. Management, on the other hand, holds the exclusive control
of resource allocation, the budgetary power to decide who gets hired
and for how much pay, what work is to be done, what programs are supported,
or what efforts are re-warded in an organization (McGee, 1971).
In turn, as Freidson (1986) argues, "that power to allocate resources determines
the particular kind of work that can be done and limits the way
work can be done. 181en the generic power of the manager is specified,
the autonomy of the special position of the professional employee seems
to vanish" (p. 154).
This important differentiation in power is often the main cause of
conflict between rank-and-file professionals and managers, regardless of
the professional qualifications of the latter. Professionals often have
their own priorities based on what they think is important for their work and
organization, whereas management tends to place an emphasis on cost
efficiency and quantity. Union organizing is one solution in dealing with
this disparity of power, which openly acknowledges the professional
practitioners' restricted discretionary powers. Taken from that perspective,
unions may also be seen as a means of protecting or even expanding
work autonomy and securing a role for the rank-and-file in the determination
of resource allocation. Once again, while professional associations
try to protect the profession's status, interests, and job independence
on a broad level by promoting its public image and exclusiveness
to expertise, unions have a more direct involvement in protecting these
aspects on behalf of practitioners.
THE DEBATE OF ECONOMIC VERSUS PROFESSIONAL VALUES
The issue of compatibility of unions to professional values has been
much discussed while opinions are still split. Among the opponents of
labor movement for professionals are those who believe that unions are a
blue-collar movement; on the other hand, union proponents are convinced
that collective bargaining can improve not only economic but also
Historically, the labor movement has placed an emphasis on demands
for better pay, benefits, or for job security, which are considered
"traditional" issues on the bargaining table. Some have even accused the union
leadership of, contrary to the membership's wish, placing a higher priority
on these issues, sacrificing concerns of more intrinsic value (Sheppard
& Herrick, 1972). The implication is that unions tend to cultivate among
rank-and-file a higher value on bread-and-butter issues to the detriment
of an appreciation of other types of rewards.
Research, mainly among nonprofessional groups, confirms that both
union officials and union membership rank traditional bargaining issues
higher than quality-of-work issues (Giles & Holley, 1978; Kochan et al.,
1974). But is the concern over salaries and benefits really unprofessional.
Salary and benefits often reflect the quality of professional work in an
institution since good wages and benefits help employers attract and retain
better professional employees (Rabban, 1991). Referring specifically
to library employees, Lewis (1989) argues that decent salaries are
necessary in order to be able to move beyond bread-and-butter concerns.
Salaries often are not a function of individual merit or skill, but are
established by historic measures of worth and influence. Salaries
are political. The historic wage gap between female jobs and male
jobs is well documented. Librarians are the lowest-paid professionals
for the years of education required and length of service in the
work force. (p. 20)
Besides arguments for the importance of bread-and-butter issues, a
recent study of professional librarians in academic research library
institutions found that librarians in both unionized and nonunionized campuses
tended to place similar importance on bread and butter, professional
growth, or work environment issues. In an analysis of just the union
group of respondents, the research found that registered union members
tended to place a higher degree of importance on professional growth
issues than did nonregistered members. Moreover, union commitment
was found statistically significant and positively related to the degree of
value placed on the same issues. In other words, those librarians most
committed to their union tended to place a higher value on professional
issues (Hovekamp, 1994b).
The distinctive characteristics of professional work have brought new
challenges for collective bargaining and raised many questions on the
transferability of the industrial model of negotiations. The peculiar nature
of professional goals has been recognized even legally by the U.S.
Congress in the Taft-Hartley Amendments, allowing professionals to establish
their own separate bargaining unit. Simultaneously, there are
those who believe that any inconsistencies between unions and professional
values are the result of attempts to apply collective bargaining
practices of the industrial sector to the unique setting of professional work
In recent years, unions, in recognition of the special interests of
professional workers, have expanded the scope of negotiations beyond the
federally mandatory topics of wages, benefits, and work conditions.
Organizations such as the National Education Association (NEA) and the
American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have been involved in educational
reform, school restructuring, and other measures designed to enhance
teaching and learning (Bascia, 1994). In the library field, similar
examples indicate that unions have managed to secure organizational
support for professional development, travel, participation in conferences,
and continuing education opportunities. Other issues addressed on some
academic campuses include tenure and promotion, especially in relation
to everyday work load versus scholarly demands that concern librarians
(Anderson et al., 1992).
In a study of 100 collective bargaining contracts for professional
rank-and-file, Rabban (1991) found that professional issues frequently addressed
in collective bargaining agreements fall under the following categories:
(1) establishment of professional standards, (2) provision of
mechanisms for the professionals' participation in decision-making,
(3) regulation of professional work, (4) provisions on training and professional
development, (5) allocation of institutional resources to professional
goals, and (6) defining the criteria for personnel decisions and the
role of the professionals in making them. Within these categories, Rabban
discovered a wide variation in the way these professional concerns were
contractually treated with some provisions supporting traditional professional
values and some not. Despite mixed results, the main conclusion of the research
was that "the existence of substantial, unambiguous support for professional
values in many agreements suggests, at a minimum, that unionization and
professionalism are not inherently incompatible" (Rabban, 1991, p. 110). In
other words, the presence of unions does not come with fixed results. Factors
such as the type and quality of the employing organization, differences among
unions, and the characteristics of the profession itself affect the degree
of support of professional values as these may be reflected in collective
Economic concerns have been addressed by professional associations to
Varying degrees among different occupations. In the library field, the American
Library Association (ALA) holds a rather lukewarm attitude toward the
establishment of salary standards, simply publishing results of periodic salary
surveys it conducts or minimum starting salaries based on recommendations by
state library associations. As Harris (1992) notes, "the library associations
tend to be library-centered rather than employee-centered with respect to such
issues as salary and working conditions" (p. 105). As a consequence, library
associations, in particular ALA, have been accused of siding with employers and
sympathizing with their interests rather than with the employees. Harris
believes that one of the main reasons why library associations refuse
to assume any responsibility over identifying or resolving salary
inequities is the mixed composition of their membership by rank-and-file,
managers, and employers, an uncommon characteristic among professional
The example of library professional associations is not however followed
by other professional groups such as teachers or nurses, who have espoused a
more active role for their associations in terms of salaries, benefits, or other
working conditions. The AFT, NEA, AAUP (American Association of University
Professors), and ANA (American Nurses Association) actively participate in the
setting of both economic and professional standards for the occupations they
represent. Although opinions are still split as to the effects of collective
bargaining responsibilities that these associations assumed, the fact that they
still represent these dual interests of professionals since the 1960s or 1970s
attest to a history of some success and to the ability of a professional
association to openly acknowledge the economic aspirations of a profession.
PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS OR UNIONS?
The above discussion points to the fact that professional associations
and professional unions are not necessarily antithetical. They both can
keep a profession cohesive by acknowledging both commonalities and
differences, secure greater work autonomy, respond to the membership's
concerns for private benefits, and support both professional and economic
values. Overall, they both can provide opportunities for a profession to
apply stronger collective pressure for upward mobility than a single individual
could. But where are they different?
One may argue that it is the profession itself that determines the
differences. Some occupations, such as teachers or nurses, have allowed the
joining of the two forms of organization into a new form that combines the
functions of both a professional association and a union. Others have
decided to keep the two separate.
In the library field, the separation between professional associations and
unions has been quite distinct, particularly in terms of the role and
tactics these organizations have assumed. This distinction seems to be clear in
the minds of library professionals. For instance, in a recent survey among
unionized librarians, respondents indicated that they view the two as "mutually
exclusive" (Anderson et al., 1992, p. 338). On the one hand, unions tend to help
library professionals deal with specific work-related issues or rights, taking
on an active role in their day-to-day work life. Having the legal right to
negotiate on behalf of the employees, they use more aggressive tactics through
collective bargaining to protect and advance the professionals' work interests.
Library professional associations, on the other hand, address the profession's
issues on a broad scale, beyond institutional confines, taking more of an
advisory or educational role. The tactics they use seek to enhance the status of
the profession by dissemination of information, establishment of standards, and
improvement of public relations through publications and lobbying. Because of
this differentiation in role and tactics--i.e., openly advocating the interests
of the profession versus indirectly striving for them--unions are often seen as
a more effective way of coping with issues of importance in the employees' work
life. For example, in their study, Anderson et al. (1992) found that the
majority of surveyed librarians would rather drop their professional membership
than leave the union in which they belonged.
An issue that has often been raised is whether a professional association,
such as ALA, should take a more active and aggressive role in the work
lives of professionals by assuming collective bargaining responsibilities. ALA
is still far from such a resolution, and that might either reflect the wish of
the membership or the fact that the professional rank-and-file still have not
made their case strong and clear.
For the time being, a combination of professional association and union
representation may help in achieving the goals of the library profession on
a broad scale and on an institution-specific level. We simply need to
recognize that these are two sides of one coin, both of them compatible with the
special nature of the profession, and both with the potential to affect the
occupation's status and welfare.
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Tina M. Hovekamp, Library & Instructional Media Services, Central Oregon
Community College, 2600 NW College, Bend, OR 97701
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|Title Annotation:||The Role of Professional Associations|
|Author:||Hovekamp, Tina Maragou|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1997|
|Next Article:||Library association staff: roles, responsibilities, relationships.|