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The Different Roles and Responsibilities of Professional Associations and Unions

The following table identifies the distinct roles and responsibilities of professional associations, such as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), and unions, such as the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).



Professional Association Union


Empowering and supporting a particular profession, discipline, or trade, the interests of individuals engaged in that domain, and the public interest.

Promoting and protecting employees who have joined together at particular worksites and/or employers to bargain for better wages and benefits, as well as improved working and safety conditions. Once a union is certified, it has the sole authority to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment for the people it represents.

Principal Activities May Include:

  • Academic Program Development
  • Accreditation
  • Advocacy
  • Certification
  • Code of Conduct and Ethics Compliance
  • Continuing Education and Professional Development
  • Maintaining a Political Action Committee
  • Networking
  • Publications and Resources
  • Public Awareness and Engagement
  • Research
  • Scope of Practice
  • Standards of Professional Practice
  • Organizing
  • Collective Bargaining over wages, rates, benefits, and working conditions
  • Work Stoppages and Strikes (where allowed)
  • Advocacy
  • Maintaining a Political Action Committee


State, National, International

Local, State, National, International (affiliated or independent)


Voluntary with specific qualifications and conditions

  • Voluntary in “right to work” states
  • Required as a condition of employment (if stipulated in a collective bargaining agreement)

IRS Tax Status

Predominately Non-profit 501(c)(6)

Non-profit 501(c)(5)

ASHA Corporate Partners