Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Unions Part 1, Why should we form one?—Finally…

Hello readers and contributors.

I am sorry I have not written much lately. Part of the reason is I have been trying to decide how to tackle the union issue that I promised to talk about. Yes, I am finally delivering on it, at least in part.

Here is the deal, I have delayed posting on unions because I want to figure out the right way to go about it. I also have delayed because I think that I am a little afraid of the possible results of unionization. First off, I have never seen myself as a union worker; much less someone that is trying to convince others it might be a good idea. Second, predicting changes in how an employer views its employees after unionization is difficult at best. At worst the employer could go decide to find different workers (searching in a different city, different area of the country, or even off-shoring). However, more and more I have become convinced that what the legal contracting industry needs is a union. There are other ideas and other options out there, but in my opinion, while some of them have been pursued they have not been and will not be effective. In truth unionization might not be either.

In any case, because I have spent a lot of my spare time looking at union issues, I have neglected posting on other issues. SO, what I am going to do is post today on why contract attorneys should unionize, and I will continue to talk about unions through the coming weeks interspersing some of the posting ideas that I have neglected. I hope to have this union issue parsed out by the end of February, and I will continue on regular postings thereafter.

Unions generally provide their members with:

  • Better Wages
  • Better Hours
  • Better Benefits
  • Better Work Environments
  • Advancement Opportunities
  • More Job Security
  • More Paid Time Off
  • A greater say (or at least knowledge) about how the work proceeds
  • Grievance Procedures

These are some of the common issues that I frequently have heard people in the legal contract industry complain about. When complaints on any particular job become loud enough and common enough, they are finally listened to and addressed. This usually comes just in time to dump more work and stress on the contractor.

I personally have had complaints in all of the areas listed above at one point or another as a contractor, and I still do. Why you may ask have I not always raised these issues with my employer? I have been afraid that I might lose my job. I have been afraid that I would be labeled a troublemaker. I have been afraid that my one little voice would be drowned out by the silence of all the other contractors.

Why have I not tried to unionize a jobsite under my real name? There are several reasons. One of which is that I did not know my rights or the extent of them. A second is that I was afraid that I would lose my job (not because of my unionizing, but for some other perfunctory reason that the employer comes up with). Another is that I still believe that not enough other people really want a union, even with all of the benefit that it could bring to them. Also, I think other contractors largely believe that it is impossible. I wish that I could prove conclusively that it is possible, but that will not happen until a union develops. I can only show you here that technically forming a union is possible.

For those of you who thought like I did that professionals don’t unionize, you may be interested in these facts from the AFL-CIO, Department for Professional employees:

  • The union movement is now 51 percent white collar.
  • In the professional and related occupations, 17.7 percent of workers are union members, a higher proportion than the workforce in general.
  • Employment in the professional and related occupations is growing faster and adding more workers than any other major occupational category. While total U.S. employment is projected to grow 13 percent between 2004 and 2014, the growth for professional and technical workers is projected to be 21.2 percent, or 6 million jobs.
  • Three-tenths of the growth in professional and related occupations is expected to take place in the health care and social assistance section, one-fifth in government, and one-seventh in professional, scientific, and technical services.
  • Some 24 percent of all jobs in 2004 required a bachelor's degree or higher. Over the projected period of 2004-2014, 36 percent of the 18.9 million new jobs are expected to be filled by those with a bachelor's degree or higher.

Source: Analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures by the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees; BLS, January 2007.

Clearly, contract attorneys would not be leading professionals in unionizing, and it is not that uncommon. We should start talking about this idea seriously. Whether you wish that you were making a few more bucks an hour, that you get a couple more paid days off per year, that your office bathroom didn’t feel like a sewage plant, that you want to someday work your way up the “corporate ladder,” that you want medical coverage for yourself or your family or that you want all of the above; a union might be the solution to your issues.

In the coming weeks, look for posts on how to form a union, my own assessment of the chances of forming a union, an assessment of the benefits and responses from the industry. The next post goes out to those people working on the McCarter English project and other Hudson contractors.

And I leave you with a nice little term of art, PROTECTED CONCERTED ACTIVITY, please look it up, and send the term and definition along to your fellow contractors (and of course a link to this site). I will discuss it more in the next union post.


Anonymous said...

Hey Mr. Sheep. Interesting post. Is the reason a lot of contractors don't care, at least in Philly, is b/c they see it as more of a job, less of a career? How many people go into contract attorneying as a "career" and not as a holdover until something else comes along (ie a perm firm job, moving into the business sector, pushing out that first/tenth baby, making extra cash for retirement)?

I think most people tend to get upset once they're in a temp position for several month, IE the massive McCarter or Dechert projects that promise a semblance of job security. The obstacle to forming a union isn't really general apathy it's more or less the mentality that temping isn't someone's be-all-end-all career like the other traditional union-esque jobs. I think by asking people to commit to a union, it's essentially asking someone to commit to a lifelong career of temping. And that, my sheepy friend, is a tough pill to psychologically swallow.

If you could explore the benefits of a TEMP (someone truely TEMPING) to join a union, even if it's just for 2 weeks on one project, that would be better than generally broad benefits.

The Black Sheep said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Black Sheep said...

Of course a big part of the reason that contractors do not care is because they see it more as a job then a career. Even I try to look at it that way. It is part of what makes it possible to get through the day. One thing that I am advocating is that by forming a union we could turn this job that is currently not on the career track to a job that might become part of a career track.

I would say that a large percentage of contractors get into contracting as a holdover for something else, and very few if any got into it as a career. This describes me. In fact this is still how I describe myself years after my first contract job. And believe it or not I do not believe large jobs like the McCarter or Dechert jobs provide much of a semblance of job security.

As far as other “traditional” union-esque jobs, think about this and name a few. Numerous jobs that would be considered primarily manual labor have unionized. Heck, a kid up in Bucks County was trying to unionize the baggers at a local grocery store. A dead end holdover type of job is exactly the type of position that has the most to gain from a union. This is especially the case when the contract agencies and law firms prey on recent graduates who have paid a lot for their educations and are swimming in debt.

As to the psychological pill, you are right it is tough to swallow. But let us face it, if you get into temping without a start date of a new position in hand, you are going to be temping at that position for a minimum of 3 months, or until it ends whichever comes first. If you look at JDwired’s survey at:, you could be there longer.

As far as the benefits of a union for a true “temp,” well, let’s see. I believe that Better Pay, Better Hours, Better Environmental conditions would benefit everyone across the board. Many of the other things that a union can do could also help true temps depending on their individual circumstances.

In any case, I will be going into this a little more clearly in future posts.

Peace out,
The Black Sheep

Melody Kramer said...

Dear Black Sheep:

I think you are absolutely on the right track, though my business partner and I have a slightly different twist on unionizing for contract lawyers - the National Association for Freelance Legal Professionals.

This newly launched association focuses on supporting contract lawyers and other freelancers in embracing this type of career and making it financially and personally rewarding. It is not a union in the traditional sense. It is a voluntary organization that gives freelancers the tools to create the career that they want to have, rather than relying on law firms or temp agencies to do the right thing.

I have sadly come to the conclusion that the only people that can ensure sufficient pay and benefits, good working conditions, and career development is individual attorneys themselves.

I invite you to visit our blog ( and join the association. I think you have a lot of insight to offer to this important discussion.

Melody Kramer
National Association for Freelance Legal Professionals