The idea that compliance officers might need or want a union to represent them with management might not seem serious. But’s let’s do our best to have a serious discussion about it anyway.
To start, why does any worker join a union? It’s to have more control over their work lives. Without unions, most workers face the same problem. They lack power. Their employers alone can decide most workplace issues. Unions, however, bring what they call “collective strength” to negotiations.
For compliance officers, are there workplace decisions a union could help with? Sure. Unions now typically negotiate pay and benefits, promotion systems, continuing education programs, internal grievance procedures, and so on. Any of those could apply to compliance officers.
Yes, but compliance officers are professionals. Aren’t unions mostly for truckers, pipefitters, and textile workers? Not any more.
Professionals are the fastest growing sector of the labor movement, according to the AFL-CIO’s Department of Professional Employees. About half of the nearly 16 million union members in the United States workforce are professionals.
Most come from more than 200 professional occupations. There are doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, actors, musicians, professors, news reporters, media producers, psychologists, athletes, engineers, accountants, school teachers, nurses, and more.
It’s possible there are already compliance officers among union members. But not many. That’s due mainly to the industries where most compliance officers work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unionization rate in the finance sector is a minuscule 1.2 percent and the same in professional and technical services.
More about the finance sector. There has only been one successful new unionization at a U.S. bank during the past 40 years, and it was small. In 2020, 96 workers at Beneficial State Bank in Washington, Oregon, and California formed a local union and joined the Communications Workers of America. Last year, they won a collective bargaining agreement. The 96 workers included bankers, consumer loan servicing representatives, loan processors, underwriters, file clerks, and custodial staff. Compliance officers weren’t mentioned.
Outside the United States, more than three million bank workers are union members. A lot of them come from Brazil, Argentina, and Spain. In Brazil, unions represent nearly 40 percent of bank workers.
Why so few union members at U.S. banks? Maybe bank workers here don’t want collective bargaining to set and cap their bonuses. Maybe avenues for promotion are more important than short-term working conditions. Maybe U.S. bank workers don’t want to pay union dues.
Those same reasons for not joining a union might apply to most compliance officers in other industries. Beyond that, could compliance officers feel closer to management than many other professionals? Do they think union membership might compromise their gatekeeper’s independence? Are they happy dealing with management and HR directly, thank you? Or maybe most compliance officers have no big grievances. They like their work and their jobs. Anything’s possible.
Here’s something else. Compliance officers already have information-based organizations that meet a lot of their needs. The Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, the National Society of Compliance Professionals, the International Compliance Professionals Association, and the FCPA Blog, among others. Unlike unions, these organizations don’t help when there’s trouble with bosses. But they provide access to developmental resources, networking opportunities, job listings, salary surveys, professional certifications, standards of conduct, and so on.
So, do compliance officers need a union? Apparently not. Maybe that’ll change someday. For now, though, there’s no “International Organization of Compliance Workers” ready to take names and kick you-know-what.