Union organizers effectively use technology and capitalize on important social issues to dramatically increase unionization in the tech industry and beyond. Union organizers no longer have to meet employees in person at their homes, in their employer’s parking lot, or in a public gathering place like a restaurant or bar. The widespread use of smartphones, email and social media has allowed union organizers to recruit members virtually. These much less time-consuming organizing techniques have enabled union organizers to be more efficient and organize more employees in much less time.
Once unimaginable, highly paid workers forming a union to challenge powerful employers is now a reality. The same actions happened in the 1930s, when highly paid actors and other film professionals formed unions to fight against the very powerful Hollywood studios. Now, with technology taking an increasingly dominant position in our daily lives, unions are focusing on the tech industry. The increase in the union organization of catering workers and security guards, and movements like “Fight For 15” and “Justice For Janitors” appeal to the new generation of tech workers with different values those of their predecessors, partly based on high pay that is more difficult to replace. Unions seized this opportunity by joining employee activism on social issues such as climate change, racial justice, harassment prevention, equal pay, diversity, equity and inclusion.
New focus on social issues
Social issues have replaced typical economic issues as the focal point of organizing tactics in the tech industry, as tech workers are relatively well paid. For example, Glitch and Communications Workers of America (CWA) signed what they claim to be the country’s first collective agreement (CBA) covering white-collar tech workers. Instead of economic issues such as wages and benefits, the CBA has focused on job security issues related to the economic uncertainties of the pandemic and on a “just cause” requirement for dismissal decisions. .
Likewise, employees of Medium, an online publishing forum, formed a union with the help of CWA and declared their goals for social justice, protection from harassment and discrimination, and advocacy initiatives. diversity and inclusion.
Pay equity issues have been at the center of attention of the Writers Guild of America during its negotiations with Gimlet, a subsidiary of the digital music service Spotify. And on March 16, 2021, Fortune magazine columnists quit work for 24 hours to highlight their claims of pay inequity: Women earn 84% of men’s wages and people of color earn 78% of whites’ wages.
Indeed, a recent survey by a technology-based placement company found that men’s starting salaries were 59% higher than those of women for the same position at the same company.
Several well-known tech employers have become the target of recent organizing activities. For example, we have seen these developments:
- At the end of 2018, thousands of Google employees signed a petition asking Google to stop working for a subcontractor because it served the defense industry.
- In September 2020, the United Steelworkers of America (USW) organized the employees of a Google subcontractor located in Pittsburgh, near the USW headquarters.
- Similar to Google, Amazon presents an attractive target for labor organizing. In September 2019, Amazon full-time office workers staged a walkout to support climate action and demanded that Amazon commit to: (1) zero emissions by 2030; (2) no custom cloud computing contracts with fossil fuel companies; and (3) no funding for climate denial politicians and lobbyists. A large union loss occurred in April 2021, when warehouse staff at Amazon Bessemer, Alabama, voted to reject representation by Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union (RWDSU) by a margin of two to a. This election result is subject to the NLRB for consideration of the objections filed by the RWDSU.
- In 2020, Kickstarter employees, with the help of Office, Professional Employees International Union, won an NLRB election by 46 to 37 votes. One of the main issues that led to unionization was opposition from Kickstarter employees at a page management decision for a graphic novel about racism and bigotry after it was written by a right-wing website. This is a prime example of the kind of employee activism issues that can lead to unionization in today’s tech industry.
New resources help the organization
To help with the virtual online organization, several resources have been launched to offer support to employees who wish to form a union. The nonprofit, coworking.org, was created by a former organizer of the International Union of Service Employees to provide advice, strategy and fundraising to support organizing efforts. Most of the issues discussed by coworking.org include non-traditional social issues that appeal to tech workers.
Likewise, Unit is a new online platform where employees can find resources to help create their own legal union. It was launched in late 2020 by traditional union veterans, offering digital tools and expertise to guide employees through an organizing campaign, election campaign, collective bargaining and CBA administration. He claims to offer advice on effective communication techniques, in addition to advising employees on strategic decision making.
Unions are formed with these resources. For example, Tech Workers Union Local 100 (TWU) was formed as an online effort of Office, Professional Employees International. TWU has organized public events regarding political and social issues.
Change in union composition?
The composition of unions themselves can change due to employee activism.
For example, in early January 2021, two software engineers from Google announced the formation of the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), supported by the CWA Coalition to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA). AWU is not a traditional union, as it seeks to represent all Google workers, including full-time, part-time and temporary employees, as well as independent contractors. AWU’s stated goals include social issues such as: contract workers should be paid the same as full-time employees; improving the handling of allegations of sexual harassment; increased diversity and inclusion; and give workers the right to refuse tasks that do not correspond to their personal values.
An important distinction between the AWU and a traditional union is that the AWU does not currently represent the majority of Google employees, so Google is not required to negotiate with the AWU. It will be interesting to watch the evolution of the AWU, to see if it becomes a more traditional union representing a majority of Google employees, or if it continues to include independent contractors. Assuming he continues to represent independent contractors, it will be interesting to observe his interactions with Google to determine if Google is ready to accept any of its goals.
Another way unions can transform is through legislation. For example, legislation was proposed in New York City that would grant independent contractors (including concert workers) limited statutory rights of the state to negotiate wages and benefits. Unions opposed this concept because it does not provide the full range of bargaining rights required by national labor relations law. It will be interesting to follow this concept of state law as it evolves in New York, as well as whether it spreads to other states.
Take-out meals for employers
The best advice for all employers who wish to remain union-free, including employers in the tech industry, is to establish and implement employment practices and policies that ensure:
- Positive culture and employment environment;
- Effective internal communication systems (apps, social media, websites, etc.) that emphasize responsiveness to employee concerns;
- Training of management on the fair and consistent treatment of employees as “valuable contributors” and clearly identifying the type of communications and actions that are not permitted during a union campaign;
- Involvement of employees in problem solving;
- Regular communications with employees that demonstrate transparency of decisions, policies and actions; and
- Social equity, including racial and gender equity.
In addition, employers should consider proactively checking their union’s vulnerability, as well as their pay policies, practices and decisions to ensure that they are based on legitimate and non-discriminatory criteria.