What Professions Cannot Unionize?

November 8, 2023

Unionization refers to coming together for empowerment and progress. In work culture, it typically refers to a body (usually known as a ‘labor union’) where workers from the same industry organize to collectively negotiate with their employers for better working conditions, wages, benefits, and other employment-related matters.

Recently, the concept of unionization has been on the rise and more than 71% of Americans approve of unions. However, not all professions are fit to be a part of a union. 

In this post, we’ll share what professions cannot unionize and why. We'll also explore innovative methods, such as online union votes, that empower workers in unconventional labor situations.

What Professions Cannot Unionize?

The National Labor Relations Board has legally prohibited some professions from partaking in unions. These professions are highlighted in the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act) and are as follows:

  • Supervisors and managers: Those in supervisory or managerial roles do not qualify as employees as per the NLRA. These people are considered to be an authority as they can make personnel and management decisions. Given this, they may have a conflict of interest with their workforce–meaning they may not want people employed in their companies to succeed at their bargains in their respective unions.
  • Confidential employees: A confidential employee is an individual who serves in a confidential role. They may assist the management personnel in shaping and executing labor relations policies, or they may be someone who has access to confidential information regarding negotiation strategies or potential changes that the employer plans to implement if there’s collective bargaining.
  • Independent contractors: Independent contractors include freelancers, construction workers, caterers, consultants, event planners, Uber drivers, etc. They do not have a regular ‘employee’ status, which is why they cannot unionize.

Apart from these exceptions, the Federal Labor Relations Authority also prohibits some federal employees from forming unions. These include:

  • Employees engaged in national security work (like FBI agents or HR specialists in defense companies)
  • People in managerial or supervisory positions (like Regional Directors at the Social Security Administration)
  • Employees entrusted with confidential information (like National Security Council staff)

Other Professions Facing Unionization Challenges

Some professions cannot unionize simply because of the nature of their work. The state does not restrict them from unionization.

Here are some examples:

  • Domestic workers: Historically, domestic workers have struggled to unionize due to the decentralized and private nature of their work.
  • Agricultural workers: This profession faces difficulty in unionization because of the migratory and seasonal nature of their job.
  • Gig economy workers: Gig workers have the same status as independent contractors and they may be unemployed at times. Due to their uncertain circumstances, unionization is a challenge.
  • Public safety workers: Police and firefighters have different rules and opportunities for unionization based on state and local laws. This can make union formation challenging.

How to Work Without a Union

Professions that face legal restrictions or challenges can implement the following strategies to overcome unionization barriers:

Build Strong Advocacy

Workers can form or join advocacy groups that focus on their specific concerns. In these groups, they can collectively push for better conditions and rights.

Lobby for Legislative Change

Regularly show up for digital and physical events that seek to improve labor rights.

Seek Legal Advice

Consult legal experts who specialize in labor and employment law to explore potential avenues for collective action. Use this advice to build strong advocacy.

Use Online Union Votes

Use online platforms for collective decision-making (for events, bargains, and other collective concerns and interests). It will maximize participation and strengthen your voice even if you do not have a formal union.

Next Steps

Looking for information on why teachers are part of a union or whether workers at a small business can unionize? Don’t miss our recent articles!

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