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|The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (February 2012)|
A clerk is a white-collar worker who conducts general office tasks, or a worker who performs similar sales-related tasks in a retail environment (a retail clerk). The responsibilities of clerical workers commonly include record keeping, filing, staffing service counters and other administrative tasks.
The word clerk is derived from the Latin clericus meaning "cleric" or "clergyman", which is the latinisation of the Greek κληρικός (klērikos), "of the clergy". The word entered English from Scots Gaelic clèireach, which was also derived from the Latin clericus.
The association derived from early medieval courts, where writing was mainly entrusted to clergy because most laymen couldn't read. In a medieval context, the word clerk meant "scholar". Even today, the term Clerk regular designates a type of regular cleric. The cognate terms in some languages, e.g., Klerk in Dutch, became restricted to a specific, fairly low rank in the administrative hierarchy.
Clerical workers are perhaps the largest occupational group in the United States. In 2004, there were 3.1 million general office clerks, 1.5 million office administrative supervisors and 4.1 million secretaries. Clerical occupations often do not require a college degree, though some college education or 1 to 2 years in vocational programs are common qualifications. Familiarity with office equipment and certain software programs is also often required. Employers may provide clerical training. The median salary for clerks is $23,000, while the national median income for workers age 25 or older is $33,000. Median salaries ranged from $22,770 for general office clerks to $34,970 for secretaries and $41,030 for administrative supervisors. Clerical workers are considered working class by American sociologists such as William Thompson, Joseph Hickey or James Henslin as they perform highly routinized tasks with relatively little autonomy. Sociologist Dennis Gilbert, argues that the white and blue collar divide has shifted to a divide between professionals, including some semi-professionals, and routinized white collar workers. White collar office supervisors may be considered lower middle class with some secretaries being located in that part of the socio-economic strata where the working and middle classes overlap.
Traditionally clerical positions have been held almost exclusively by women. Even today, the vast majority of clerical workers in the US continue to be female. As with other predominantly female positions, clerical occupations were, and to some extent continue to be, assigned relatively low prestige on a sexist basis. The term pink collar worker is often used to describe predominantly female white collar positions.
Due to the majority of clerical positions being held by women, the sector is largely un-unionized. With the decline of the industrial sector and the rise of white-collar jobs, the labor movement needed to tap into this large pool of potential members in order to sustain the movement. Much debate exists as to what strategies to adopt when organizing female clerical workers. Part of the issue is that many female clerks do not wish to pay their dues. Some claim that focusing on gender sensitive issues would be the most effective route, since women tend to shy away from the male-dominated unions. Others argue that women are just as militant as men when it comes to getting grievances heard, such as the willingness of female employees of a Wisconsin insurance company to fight against management’s discriminatory practices. Still others contend that the problem does not lie with the tactics used to “sell” the union to the workers, but in developing “leadership from among the workers and train[ing] them to organize their fellow workers.”