Howard Karger

in Social Work

ISBN: 9780195389678
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:


The relation between social work and labor unions dates back to the late 19th century, when Jane Addams and other settlement house leaders actively supported the nascent union movement including the Chicago garment workers and meat packer strikes. Social workers helped others, notably working women, to organize into trade unions. Because social workers were largely volunteers in the early 1900s, there was little impetus to organize themselves into a union. Despite their active involvement in the union activities, early social workers were sympathizers rather than union members. Social work’s relation with organized labor can be traced to four periods: (i) the voluntary beginnings of the social work profession marked the beginning of social action and union support (Davis 1965, cited under the under the Professionalization of Social Work, 1900–1920); (ii) the professionalization of social work in the 1920s (Lubove 1965, cited under the Professionalization of Social Work, 1900–1920); (iii) the Great Depression and the halcyon days of radical social work unionization (Fisher 1980, cited under the Great Depression of the 1930s); and (iv) social work’s integration into mainstream trade union movement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were approximately 650,500 social workers in the United States in 2010, a number that seems exaggerated in light of the only 660 accredited bachelor and master degree programs in social work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics further estimates that 20 percent of social workers and 24 percent of community and social services workers are unionized. Despite Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates, it is impossible to gauge the actual number of unionized professionally trained social workers in the United States. First, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) does not gather information on unionized social workers. Second, most social workers are ensconced in large bargaining units that are rarely broken down into discrete employee classifications. Third, the category of “social worker” is vague. For example, many states that license social workers mandate that the title can only be used by degreed social workers; other states that license social workers exempt public sector employees that hold social work-like titles from licensing requirements. This entry focuses on social work unionization and the stages through which it has passed.

Article.  4498 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »