Subject: Unions/Certifications/STC
From: John Gear <catalyst -at- PACIFIER -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 6 Jul 1995 10:27:00 PDT

William Hartzer asks:

>Should we have a Technical Writer's Union?

>Perhaps if there were a technical writer's union, the Union could establish
>rates and help with medical, dental, and benefits for those technical writers
>who are contract writers.

>Having contracted some jobs before, I wish I had had a union to deal with
>rather than having to do all of the negotiating myself when it came to setting
>rates and drawing up contracts.

>What do you think?

>Should we Unionize?

and elsewhere, several folks have discussed questions about certifications.
These seem very related to me.

I'm coming to think that part of the problem is that the STC, which *looks
like* a professional organization, is *not*, at least not in the sense that
other professional organizations are (such as National Association for
Social Workers, the National Education Association). I guess I would say
that STC is more of a trade association.

When I say "professional organization" I refer to an organization that sees
its mission as both the improvement and advancement of the particular skill
or discipline that defines it (distinct from related fields) *and*
improvements in the lives and conditions of the practitioners in that field.

Trade organizations are concerned only with improvements and advancements in
the field and are typically dominated by the people doing the hiring and
selling in the field and work to advance *their* interests; professional
organizations are typically dominated by the professionals who do the work
in the field and work to advance *their* interests (which necessarily
include advancements in the field).

If we think of STC as a professional organization then it would be a unique
one in that, while it appears to be dominated by technical communicators, it
is virtually silent on issues of salary, health concerns, safety issues,
quality of work life, the effect of technology *on the worker* (as opposed
to on the product), and public policy issues (such as laws regarding
home-workers, contractors, pensions and benefits for part-timers, family
leave, etc.).
Perhaps the large number of corporate sponsors giving money to the STC has
something to do with this. There are several companies listed in the latest
directory as sustaining members who are actively hostile to their own
workers' right to organize (two of which are engaged in attempts to break
their unions now). It would be hard to think of a *professional*
organization calling these companies "supporters"--but it's understandable
for a trade organization.

Even a short time on this list shows that we discuss a number of topics that
are normally the province of the professional society (just a few recent
examples: how to use computers for extended periods without going blind or
being unable to use your hands; how to set rates; minimum appropriate
salaries; responding to discrimination in the workplace; ethical conduct;
medical insurance; etc.).

So, in answer to your question "Should we unionize?" I guess my answer is
"Maybe--depending on what kind of future we want for people in technical
communications." Perhaps a union/certified technical communicator program
would be a good approach to realizing our goals. But maybe we just need a
professional society.

P.S. I often see ads for a Writer's Union, which seems to be concentrated
in the SF Bay area. Anyone belong?

John Gear (catalyst -at- pacifier -dot- com)

The Bill of Rights--The Original Contract with America
Accept no substitutes. Beware of imitations. Insist on the genuine articles.

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