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Historically, professional workers have displayed an ideology of individualism. Work is not a commodity to be sold on the market but a calling that constitutes personal identity while also conferring a relatively privileged class status. Professionals have asserted their legal rights as workers primarily through individual contract and tort theories that redress the potential loss of professional identity. Market instability and management techniques threaten to undermine the autonomy, judgment and control over job content that once characterized professional status. When that status is challenged at its core, labor becomes commodified and workers' receptivity to union organizing or collective action around the assertion of individual employment rights is enhanced.

The annual Kenneth M. Piper Lecture is sponsored by Chicago-Kent College of Law's Institute for Law and the Workplace. It is presented by the Kenneth M. Piper Endowment, which was established by a gift from Mrs. Kenneth M. Piper in memory of her husband. Mr. Piper was a distinguished executive with Motorola, Inc., and Bausch & Lomb, Inc., who made important contributions in human resources and labor relations for more than two decades.

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