Professionals Joining Together in Union: A 2018 Recap

It could be said that 2018 was a mixed bag for unions and the labor movement. The Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision was a direct attack on public sector unions and President Trump went after federal employees’ workplace rights with three executive orders, while union approval reached a 15-year high at 62 percent. A better way to recap 2018 for professional union members is to look at the employees who chose to join together in union.

For unions of professionals, 2018 started on a high note with professional union membership at over 6.1 million due to the gains made in 2017. Throughout the year professionals continued to prove they want a union. Organizing victories occurred in a range of sectors and industries, including entertainment, education, healthcare, nonprofit, media, aerospace, federal, retail, and utility. Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE) affiliate unions had countless professionals join their ranks to make workplaces improvements. Here are some examples:

Pay Increases

In Seattle, public media professionals at KUOW organized to improve their pay due to the costs associated with living in an increasingly expensive city and to have a greater say in their newsroom. Employees at Hawaii Water also decided to come together to improve their pay. Hawaii Water employees learned unionized employees at another water utility were earning considerably more and realized they could raise their pay with a union too.

Better Benefits

For employees at Texas’ largest independent bookstore BookPeople, joining together in union wasn’t just about improving pay but also benefits. The staff of 80 booksellers, event staff, and inventory managers joined together in union to make the store better for customers and employees. With their union, BookPeople’s employees will negotiate for higher wages and better benefits to ensure the bookstore is a place they will continue to want to work.

Improve Working Conditions

Many professionals that organized this year were motivated by concerns with working conditions. Faculty at Oregon State University joined together in union after witnessing their working conditions deteriorate and the university increasingly rely on contingent faculty. They will have a greater say in university governance and a way to secure better working conditions with their union. Digital journalists at Fast Company value their collaborative, innovative, and nurturing workplace and came together to preserve it. In a tumultuous time for digital media, they viewed unionizing as the most effective way to maintain the best aspects of their workplace and have voice in how it evolves. Vermont Symphony Orchestra musicians’ move to unionize came during a time of changes too and they also joined together to have a voice in the process. Additionally, the musicians were attracted to joining the larger community of unionized orchestras and having access to its resources.

One way to recap 2018 is to say professionals are still realizing there is power in a union.

Here is a larger sampling of 2018 organizing victories from DPE affiliate unions:

Historic Organizing Gains in 2018 for SAG-AFTRA

SAG-AFTRA has continued to put resources into organizing new bargaining units in all the areas of covered work in 2018. That investment led to some historic victories that will help shape the future of media workers in the 21st century — and beyond. With middle-class union jobs increasingly under attack and existing contracts under the threat of non-union work, SAG-AFTRA took a proactive strategy that will continue to pay dividends.

Whether it’s expanding the union’s coverage into new realms in cable television, public radio or Spanish-language media, SAG-AFTRA is continuing to grow. These are just some of the organizing victories for SAG-AFTRA members in 2018:

KUOW in Seattle Gets Organized

In February, employees at public radio station KUOW in Seattle won union recognition as a new bargaining unit, including the station’s announcers, hosts, producers and reporters, as well as digital and community engagement staff. This was just the latest in a string of organizing campaigns in public radio in recent years that have brought in hundreds of new members at stations including KPCC in Pasadena, WBEZ in Chicago, KPBS in San Diego, and Minnesota Public Radio.

La Ley in Chicago Joins Other SBS SAG-AFTRA Stations

In September, on-air talent at Spanish-language radio station La Ley 107.9 (WLEY-FM) in Chicago, owned by Spanish Broadcasting System, voted overwhelmingly to organize with SAG-AFTRA. This was the latest milestone in SAG-AFTRA’s campaign to organize the Spanish-language media industries, and following successes in recent years with radio stations Mega and La Raza in Los Angeles, Telemundo Studios telenovela actors, and multiple Telemundo award shows.

Al Jazeera English Votes to Join SAG-AFTRA

In October, content creators at Al Jazeera English (AJE), based in the United States, voted overwhelmingly to recognize SAG-AFTRA as their union. AJE programs that will now be covered by SAG-AFTRA include the recent Emmy award-winning show Fault Lines, The Stream, Witness, Up Front and People & Power, to name a few.

New York Public Radio Per Diems Get Recognized

SAG-AFTRA and New York Public Radio (NYPR) in August reached an agreement to add per diem and temporary employees working in SAG-AFTRA covered titles to the union’s longstanding contract, which adds some 30 people to the more than 100 full-time workers at NYPR covered by the union. The deal came after the unit made the request to unionize on July 12, 2018.

Telemundo First Contract Victory

Also in 2018, SAG-AFTRA achieved a historic first contract with Telemundo Studios. The contract marks a breakthrough after fifteen months of negotiations that followed a vote by Telemundo performers to unionize on March 8, 2017.

More Broadcast Organizing Victories

Other broadcast organizing victories for SAG-AFTRA in 2018 included a unit of producers and news editors who work for Entercom radio stations KDKA-AM and KDKA-FM in Pittsburgh, and traffic reporters with TTWN in Portland, Oregon.

First Contract for ListenUp Audiobooks in Atlanta

SAG-AFTRA began 2018 with a newly organized unit of audiobook narrators working for ListenUp Audiobooks in Atlanta. SAG-AFTRA now represents hundreds of audiobook narrators across dozens of bargaining units that have been organized in recent years.

Video Games Victories

SAG-AFTRA doubled our signatory numbers between 2017 and 2018 and have continued to increase signatories to our low-budget agreement since its creation.

New Media Wins

Besides the historic agreement with SVOD service Zeus, and working with other content creators, our focus has been on signing dramatic and non-dramatic podcasts. We signed our first podcast in spring 2018. Since then we have been signing and organizing podcast productions consistently.

Commercials Gains

SAG-AFTRA created the Low Budget Digital Waiver to address concerns that digital work was going non-union. The result has been an increase in digital work as well as an introduction for advertisers who have never used SAG-AFTRA members before to experience professional talent. Additionally, we reworked our Commercial Regional Codes(also known as “made-in played-in” work) creating more work opportunities for performers outside of the major markets.

Actors and Stage Managers

Norwegian Bliss (Actors’ Equity Association)


Vermont Symphony Orchestra (American Federation of Musicians)

Graduate Employees

Brown University (American Federation of Teachers)

Georgetown University (American Federation of Teachers)

College and University Faculty

Oregon State University (American Federation of Teachers)

Charter School Educators

City on a Hill New Bedford (American Federation of Teachers)

City on a Hill Dudley Square (American Federation of Teachers)

City on a Hill Circuit Street (American Federation of Teachers)

Global Concepts Charter School (American Federation of Teachers)

Music Teachers

Old Town School of Folk Music (American Federation of Teachers)

Hospital Employees

Rockville General Hospital (American Federation of Teachers)

Nonprofit Employees

National Democratic Institute (Office and Professional Employees International Union)

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers)

The Democracy Collaborative (International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers)

The Maryland Center on Economic Policy (International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers)

Broadcast Professionals

Big Ten Network (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts)

Digital Journalists

Fast Company (Writers Guild of America, East)

Talking Points Memo (Writers Guild of America, East)

Vox Media (Writers Guild of America, East)

Slate (Writers Guild of America, East)

Onion, Inc. (Writers Guild of America, East)

The Dodo (Writers Guild of America, East)

Post-Production Professionals

Nickelodeon Animation Studio (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts)

Federal Employees

Federal Aviation Administration (Professional Aviation Safety Specialists)

Flight-readiness Technicians and Inspectors

Boeing (International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers)

Bookstore Employees

BookPeople (Office and Professional Employees International Union)

Utility Employees

Hawaii Water (Utility Workers Union of America)

Atlanta Gas Light (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers)

Political and Campaign Professionals

Washington State Democratic Party (International Union of Painters and Allied Trades)

Nursing Assistants

Mountain View Care and Rehab Center (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union)


Carroll County Fire Fighters (International Association of Fire Fighters)