FAQ for professionals new to union representation

Common questions from professionals new to union representation

Like many professional employees new to employment, you may have been surprised to learn you now have union representation. The right of employees to unionize became a reality in 1971 with the enactment of the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA). MAPE was formed in 1980 by state professionals.

“The dictionary's traditional definition of a professional is: someone who is able to exercise control or substantial influence over his or her income, terms and conditions of employment, and quality of the standards of practice in the field. I don't have any idea of how a true professional can exercise control or substantial influence over any of those elements in the practice of their profession without an organization. You can only exercise control or substantial influence over those elements of your profession by having the strength of numbers and a representational mechanism to carry your message to the decision makers that affect your future and those of your peers."

"Why Do Professionals Need Unions?" Jack Flagler, Professor and Director, Labor Education Services, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis MN

You may have never worked in a unionized workplace during your professional career. If so, you may have some questions. Here are some we often hear from new employees like you.

(Adapted from "I'm a Professional. What Can a Union Do for Me?" by the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees)

Question: Why do professionals want or need a union?

Answer: All workers have the same need: the chance to do their jobs well.

The ability to do one's job well requires a reasonable schedule, manageable workload, fair compensation, security, respect and recognition of skills, education, and expertise. In recent years, professional employees have lost an increasing amount of control over their work. In non-union environments, most decisions concerning wages, benefits and working conditions are made by managers, whose choices may be more driven by budget than work quality. Without a union enforced contract, non-union professionals may be penalized or even fired for simply offering a view different from that of their supervisor. Professionals in unionized work sites are able to use processes and structures negotiated by their union to advocate for ideas to improve efficiency, performance and service delivery.

The list of highly educated and skilled workers who have chosen to take control of their working conditions through unions is long. The union movement in America is now 54.3 percent professional and technical workers. Here are just a few professional unions you may not have heard about: American Federation of Government Employees, American Federation of School Administrators, Communication Workers of America, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Minnesota Nurses Association, Office and Professional Employees International Union, Society of Professional Engineers in Aerospace and Writers Guild of America.

Question: How does union membership benefit me financially?

Answer: State government employees with union representation make, on average, 14.89 percent more than their non-unionized counterparts.

Like many professionals in state government, you likely chose the strong benefit packages and security of the public sector over the volatility, insecurity and market-based wages of the private sector.

Looking solely at the public sector, unionized state government employees make, on average, 14.89 percent more than those without a union. (Bureau of Labor Statistics News Release: "Union Members - 2012.").

Historically, MAPE members have voted to maintain fair wages and above-average health-care coverage. Here's a look at what our collective bargaining has achieved just since 2000.

Year Across the board increases Step increase
  (i.e., cost of living adjustments) (3.5%)
2000 3% yes
2001 3% yes
2002 3% yes
2003 0% (governor-imposed wage freeze) yes
2004 0% yes
2005 2% yes
2006 2% yes
2007 3.25% yes
2008 3.25% yes
2009 0% (governor-imposed wage freeze) no
2010 0% (governor-imposed wage freeze) yes
2011 0% yes
2012 2% (retroactive to Jan. 2, 2013) yes
2013 3% yes
2014 3% yes
2015 2.5% yes
2016 2.5% yes
2017 2% yes
2018 2.25% yes
2019 2.25% yes
2020 2.5% yes
2021 2.5% yes
2022 2.5% yes

Health insurance benefits: Minnesota state employees other employee groups
(Bureau of Labor Statistics news release: "Employee benefits in the United States" -- July 11, 2012)

Employer-paid percentage of single coverage  
Private sector 78%
Public sector non-unionized 87%
MAPE-represented employees 95%
Employer-paid percentage of family coverage  
Private sector 66%
Public sector non-unionized 65%
MAPE-represented employees 85%

Question: Won't a union stifle individual achievement with things like raises and promotions based solely on seniority?

Answer: Not according to MAPE's contract.

There is no universal union contract -- each union negotiates based on the professional priorities of its members. MAPE members have repeatedly chosen to make seniority less prominent in our contract. For example, employees in one job classification (customized training representative) represented by MAPE have chosen to operate on a performance pay system.

Management has the right, according to our contract, to reward an individual's or a work team's excellent performance with an annual achievement award up to $1,000 or one step. Your union wants you to progress and succeed on the job - moreover, we want you to be fairly compensated, and when warranted, rewarded for a job well done.

Question: What is the nature of MAPE's relationship with state agency management?

Answer: Professional and positive.

MAPE members understand working for state government means being a good steward of taxpayer's dollars. Through labor-management meetings and contract negotiations, we work together to ensure the State of Minnesota is running efficiently and effectively, while employing, training and retaining a first-rate workforce.

It is important to note most managers in state service are also represented by a union (Middle Management Association), so they understand the importance of collective bargaining and workers' desire to make the workplace better for everyone.

One way in which professionals assist the state in improving its service to Minnesotan is the meet and confer, a right provided to us through Minnesota state law. According to PELRA, "professional employees possess knowledge, expertise, and dedication which is helpful and necessary to the operation and quality of public services and which may assist public employers in developing their policies.

It is, therefore, the policy of this state to encourage close cooperation between public employers and professional employees by providing for discussions and the mutual exchange of ideas regarding all matters that are not terms and conditions of employment." The "discussion and mutual exchange of ideas" occurs during regularly scheduled meetings between MAPE members and management at all levels and in all agencies. If you would like to know more about meet and confer issues in your agency, visit meet and confer committees.