White-collar organizer

Union workers have their locals. But in these scary times, who speaks for the anxious affluent?

By Jennifer Merritt, special projects editor

(Money Magazine) -- Writer Barbara Ehrenreich may be best known for chronicling the troubles of low-wage earners in her 2002 bestseller "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America."

But these days she's putting her consciousness-raising to work for a less obviously needy group: white-collar workers.

Why? As Ehrenreich sees it, outsourcing, downsizing and increasing Wall Street pressure have made them as disposable as blue-collar workers. In September she launched United Professionals (unitedprofessionals.org) to support these "unemployed, under-employed and anxiously employed" Americans.

She hopes the nonprofit - now 4,000 members strong - will become a voice for the "insecure" middle class.

Q. What inspired United Professionals?

A. I was researching "Bait and Switch" [a book about laid-off white-collar workers] and was going to networking events as an undercover job seeker. I could see the desire for people who were laid off to make contact with others in the same situation.

Q. Okay, but aren't white-collar workers well prepared to find other jobs?

A. Sometimes. But, on average, if you find another white-collar job, you'll earn 70 percent of what you did before.

Q. You received start-up money from the Service Employees International Union. Is this, then, a union for the suit-and-tie set?

A. No. A union isn't appropriate for this group. We're talking about people in many different occupations who don't think much of or don't usually join unions.

Q. So what is the group's aim?

A. People who have joined want a voice for the jerked-around white-collar American who went to college, majored in something practical and then, wham, realizes he'll be a barista long after graduating or finds himself having been bumped out one too many times at age 50.

The No. 1 concern is health insurance. Also unemployment compensation. And debt, which can mount up when a person is laid off.

Q. What solutions are you proposing?

A. We're offering legal services to members and soon, hopefully, inexpensive health insurance.

We're arguing for health care not tied to employment and for more people to be eligible for unemployment compensation.

We've blitzed Congress and will do more of that. While we don't endorse specific legislation, we can push for something to be done.

Right now it's all an effort to get the conversation going.

Q. Any early results?

A. I keep getting letters that say "I thought I was crazy, but now I see I'm not alone." That seems small, but I don't think it is.  Top of page

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.
Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.