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Can the Tech Sector Be Unionized?


In the spring 2018 issue of n+1, Alex Press explores the difficulties and promise of organizing workers in the tech sector. Due to their high wages and cultish work culture, techies might seem like the last workers who would want to join a union. But as Press relates, labor discontent is growing in the tech sector, and some tech-based labor groups are making inroads. Here’s an excerpt:

The tech workers I spoke with disagreed about what shape tech unions would take, if successful. When asked whether the old union mold would fit, Miller said, “We need something that acknowledges that it’s not just managers and factory workers on a contained shop floor.” Tech’s dispersed workforce presents a challenge for the traditional union structure. As an industry strewn with independent contractors and subcontractors (far-flung “little fiefdoms” as Markus put it), tech may well call for a reconfiguring of union structures originally created to represent geographically centralized workplaces.

The dispersed workforce also presents a challenge for the traditional union process. While Markus says union organizers were “verbally supportive” of his efforts to organize tech workplaces in Chicago, he believes they’re not interested in extending resources for a fight they don’t think they can win, which would involve remote, contract, and other loosely connected workers: “They aren’t ready to deploy organizers.” Others spoke of reaching out to unions and never hearing back, or having union organizers lose touch with them over time. Concerned with retaining their membership amid an anti-union climate the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations, many unions aren’t interested in going on the offensive. With no union support on the horizon, the most militant among the burgeoning tech workers’ movement are on their own. “The onus is on us,” said Markus. “We’ll build a movement, and the unions will come.”

Image: Google offices in New York. Via NY Post.