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Success in the Tech Industry: Worker Wins

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Despite the challenges of organizing during a deadly pandemic, working people across the country (and beyond) continue organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life. This edition begins with:

CODE-CWA’s Tech Industry Organizing Efforts Lead to Union Recognition at Mobilize: Workers at Mobilize, a community-organizing app, announced the formation of a new union as part of the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees’ (CODE-CWA’s) efforts to organize in the tech industry. EveryAction, which owns Mobilize, agreed to voluntarily recognize the union. This is the third big win for Communications Workers of America (CWA) in tech sector organizing, after recent wins at Glitch and Google. Jared McDonald, a member of the organizing committee, said: “They said, ‘Yeah, we want to do this the right way, we’re highly invested in the labor movement as well, and workers’ rights, and their ability to organize in the collective bargaining unit. Obviously we have a privileged position where we work for a progressive employer, but if we don’t do it, how are the people who are going to work for less progressive employers going to do it?”

Glitch Workers Secure Historic Collective Bargaining Contract: Workers at app developer Glitch have secured a collective bargaining agreement, the first contract signed by white-collar tech workers in the United States. Members overwhelmingly ratified the contract, which lasts for 11 months. The workers, represented by the CWA, organized a year ago and won voluntary recognition of the new union. The contract includes significant protections, including “just cause” protection and recall rights for 18 employees laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sheridan Kates, a senior software engineer and bargaining committee member, explained the union’s willingness to work with management to come to a mutually beneficial agreement: “There’s a lot of fear that you can’t be nimble with a union in the tech industry, but this shows there are ways to do it. We have an 11-month contract. We didn’t focus on wages and benefits. We didn’t want to hamstring Glitch. We wanted to see ourselves as partners with management and codify the things that are important to us as a union. Having voluntary recognition helped us not have to go into this in an adversarial way. We recognized that we were coming to the table from a place of wanting to do right by each other.”

Journalists at McClatchy Organizations in Washington State Win Voluntary Recognition: Journalists at four McClatchy news organizations in Washington state, The News Tribune, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald and the Tri-City Herald have organized as the Washington State NewsGuild. Management agreed to recognize the new affiliate of The NewsGuild-CWA. Stephanie Pedersen, Northwest regional editor for McClatchy, said: “The leadership team and our colleagues fundamentally share the same mission: to produce strong local journalism that serves our communities. Recognition allows us to begin negotiations so we may continue to deliver on that mission.”

Comcast Workers in Massachusetts Win Seven-and-a-Half-Year Battle to Secure First Contract: Comcast technicians, members of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2322, in Fairhaven Massachusetts, won their first contract after forming a union seven and a half years ago. The new contract includes significant wage and benefit gains, fair overtime rules, increased job security and workplace safety measures. Local 2322 Business Manager Eric Hetrick said: “The techs showed amazing determination. Once they won their union certification election, they used their Section 7 rights under the National Labor Relations Act to engage in ‘concerted activity’ and management’s obligation to bargain changes in wages and working conditions to stay united and keep the pressure on.”

Washington State Labor Council Helps IBEW 900 Secure a Fair Contract: Pushed to the brink of a strike last week, more than 900 members of the Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 46 employed in the union’s second largest unit—Limited Energy Sound and Communication—won a major victory with a new contract that members ratified by an overwhelming majority on Saturday night. “I couldn’t be more proud of the brave 900 for fighting and winning the contract they deserve,” said Sean Bagsby, business manager and financial secretary for Local 46. “I want to thank the Washington State Labor Council, the Seattle Building Trades, the Joint Council of Teamsters #28, MLK Labor and all the many other unions that showed their support during this long contract fight. [National Electrical Contractors Association] saw that the union movement has our backs, and they finally budged and gave The 900 a contract worthy of their support. I believe it wouldn’t have happened without that solidarity from the community of labor unions.”

Austin American-Statesman Journalists Join The NewsGuild: Journalists at the Austin American-Statesman voted to form the Austin NewsGuild, an affiliate of The NewsGuild-CWA. Next steps include electing a unit council and assembling a bargaining committee. This in the third new Guild unit in Texas in recent months as part of an industry-wide surge in union organizing.

Guggenheim Museum Workers Ratify Contract After Yearlong Fight: After a tense year of negotiations, workers at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York signed a new collective bargaining agreement. The contract covers engineering and facilities professionals; art services, preparation and fabrication specialists and staff who prepare, install and maintain exhibitions. The contract includes wage increases, increased transparency and parity in scheduling and other matters and improved health care benefits. Bryan Cook, a member of the Guggenheim Union, said: “Throughout negotiations, it was clear that management understood the level of work we produce in support of world-class exhibitions, but that they had no intention of compensating us fairly.”

Staff at Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (TCI) form TCI United with NPEU: Staff at TCI, a Virginia-based nonprofit that works to advance racial and economic justice, have voted to form TCI United with the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU). In a statement, TCI United said: “One of TCI’s core values is that its organizational culture, staff, partners, strategies, and investments should work to advance racial and economic justice within and beyond the organization. We, TCI staff members, are deeply committed to our mission, and believe one of the best ways to realize it is to organize and form a union.”  

RWDSU Members at McNally Jackson Books and Stationery Stores Secure First Contract: Workers at McNally Jackson Books and stationery stores in New York, represented by Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union-UFCW (RWDSU-UFCW), ratified their first contract. The contract provides pay raises of 7%-17%, retirement benefits, additional paid holidays and an increase in vacation days. Rhys Davis, a worker at the Goods for the Study stationery store, said: “We stuck the course throughout the pandemic to get a great contract. I think that’s a testament to the relationship between all of the employees at McNally Jackson and the strength of our union—and our bond.”

Workers at New York Daily News to Form a Union: On Friday, it was announced that workers at the New York Daily News are seeking to form a union. With support from more than 80% of workers, the newly formed bargaining unit is seeking voluntary recognition from its employer. The new union will be a part of The NewsGuild-CWA. “We’re thrilled to welcome our hometown paper back into the Guild,” said Susan DeCarava, president of The NewsGuild of New York, CWA Local 31003. “The fight to save local news and to guarantee that the communities our members serve have access to reliable information and compelling stories is an effort we share with our Guild colleagues nationally. We ask that Tribune Publishing voluntarily recognize the Daily News Union without delay so that, together, we can safeguard and ensure that the news thrives for another 100 years.”

CVS Workers Vote Union YES for a Safer Workplace Amidst COVID-19: Workers at a CVS Pharmacy store in Spring Valley, California, voted to join United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 135 for essential workplace health and safety protections during this pandemic. As COVID-19 cases continue to spike in California, it was workplace safety that drove these workers to form a union. With their newfound collective bargaining rights, workers are prioritizing quarantine pay, free coronavirus testing and hazard pay among their demands. Our new union sisters, brothers and friends will join with UFCW members at 57 other CVS stores and the more than 200,000 working families of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. “In the midst of this pandemic, workers see the value in belonging to a union,” said UFCW Local 135 President Todd Walters. “The workers at CVS Pharmacy in Spring Valley have chosen to be represented by UFCW Local 135. This is a victory for these essential workers that are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic!”
 
Workers Celebrate Near-Unanimous Vote at Twin City Foods Plant: Twin City Foods employees now have the right to bargain collectively for better benefits at the Pasco plant in Washington. In celebration, they waved signs near an entrance to the plant as they rejoiced in their nearly unanimous 126–2 vote to join UFCW. The efforts to form a union began this past fall as COVID-19 infections spread at the plant, reportedly leading to the death of two workers. Many plant workers were quarantined and forced to use up their limited paid sick leave. Workers also responded to management’s slow implementation of basic COVID-19 prevention safety measures. Twin City Foods employs some 230 year-round packaging employees and brings on another 300 to 400 workers seasonally. The company, based in Stanwood, Washington, processes frozen vegetables and has operations in both Washington and Michigan. The Washington State Labor Council has made support for food and agricultural workers a priority throughout the pandemic.

100 Iowa Valve Plant Workers Vote to Join Machinists Union: About 100 workers at Clow Valve Co. in Oskaloosa, Iowa, have voted to join the Machinists (IAM). These proud new IAM members make iron and brass castings for fire hydrants and water valves. Workers at the plant’s foundries inquired about joining the IAM late last year after the company significantly increased health care costs. Moreover, the company indicated it was potentially making additional future changes to its benefits. “I want to congratulate these brave men and women at Clow Foundry who stood up for a better life for themselves, their families and their communities,” said IAM Midwest Territory General Vice President Steve Galloway. “Credit for this organizing win goes to Special Representative Chris Tucker [IAM], Grand Lodge Representative Geny Ulloa [IAM], and their entire team who worked tirelessly to secure a victory for our new members. Welcome to the IAM family, Brothers and Sisters.” Due to a sizable Spanish-speaking population at the plant, IAM organizers were sure to translate all materials about the union.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIOon March 25, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


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The Failure to Unionize the Tech Industry Will Eat the Labor Movement Alive

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The pandemic has made tech stronger, but unions haven’t caught up.

Big tech is get­ting big­ger. The five biggest pub­lic com­pa­nies in Amer­i­ca are all tech com­pa­nies. Their stock prices have col­lec­tive­ly risen by more than a third this year. The coro­n­avirus has been a bless­ing for them. It has super­charged their growth, even as it’s dev­as­tat­ed many oth­er busi­ness­es. When this pan­dem­ic is over, the tech industry’s share of our econ­o­my?—?and all of the pow­er that comes with that?—?will be greater than ever.

The Gild­ed Age is here again. Not with rail­roads and steel com­pa­nies, but with tech com­pa­nies, which are tak­ing over old indus­tries and form­ing new ones, divert­ing enor­mous piles of wealth towards them­selves along the way. Gates and Bezos and Zucker­berg and Musk are the new Rock­e­feller and Carnegie and Mel­lon and Ford. The unique nature of this cri­sis, which has kept peo­ple inside and on screens, has only accel­er­at­ed the over­haul of the Amer­i­can econ­o­my. The indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion is long gone, and the tech rev­o­lu­tion can declare vic­to­ry. Ana­lysts say we are in a ?“bear mar­ket for humans,” as tech com­pa­nies are reward­ed for their abil­i­ty to squeeze human work­ers out of exis­tence. The cap­i­tal has shift­ed, and the labor is just being dragged along.

Ide­al­ly, orga­nized labor is an equal coun­ter­bal­ance to cor­po­rate pow­er. In Amer­i­ca in 2020, where only one in ten work­ers is a union mem­ber, that is obvi­ous­ly not the case. Cap­i­tal runs the show. The abil­i­ty of the work­ing class to exer­cise fun­da­men­tal pow­er over the terms and con­di­tions of our econ­o­my is extreme­ly lim­it­ed, exist­ing only in cer­tain pock­ets of cer­tain indus­tries. If we ever hope to reverse our 40-year climb in inequal­i­ty and re-cre­ate the mid­dle class and wrench our soci­ety back toward fair­ness, work­ing peo­ple need to be able to exer­cise pow­er in the con­text of the entire econ­o­my, not just in iso­lat­ed places. That is the scale of change that the labor move­ment needs to aim for. Unions need to be every­where cap­i­tal is, or cap­i­tal will win and labor will lose. Our exist­ing world proves that basic point. Right now, there is no more gap­ing hole for orga­nized labor than the tech indus­try. Unions have almost no pow­er there. And that’s where all the eco­nom­ic pow­er lies. This is not a small prob­lem for unions?—?it is an exis­ten­tial one.

Apple is not union. Microsoft is not union. Not Ama­zon, nor Alpha­bet, nor Face­book. Those five com­pa­nies alone are worth $7.3 tril­lion. Not only is all of that pow­er com­plete­ly untouched by the influ­ence of unions, but almost all small­er tech com­pa­nies are non-union as well. It is not hard to see that if our goal is to allow orga­nized labor to exert mean­ing­ful influ­ence over the entire econ­o­my, then it is a fair­ly major prob­lem that orga­nized labor is absent from the indus­try that exerts the most influ­ence over the entire econ­o­my. The tech indus­try is the biggest fail­ure of the union move­ment in the 21st cen­tu­ry.

Smart peo­ple in the labor move­ment have under­stood this fact for some time. Indeed, there has been a decent amount of non-union labor orga­niz­ing in the tech indus­try over the past five years or so, result­ing in some vis­i­ble actions like the 2018 Google walk­outs. Though that orga­niz­ing has val­ue, it does not pro­duce a last­ing inter­nal struc­ture that can col­lec­tive­ly bar­gain and per­ma­nent­ly change the bal­ance of pow­er between work­ers and man­age­ment and investors. That would require a union. When we gaze out across the land­scape of the mighty tech indus­try in search of suc­cess­ful union orga­niz­ing, there are decid­ed­ly slim pick­ings.

One bright spot is Kick­starter, where employ­ees won a bit­ter fight to union­ize ear­li­er this year. Pan­dem­ic-induced lay­offs have cut that unit from around 90 to 50 employ­ees in recent months, but the work­ers say the union has been a suc­cess­ful safe­ty net, allow­ing them to bar­gain for bet­ter sev­er­ance. In a col­lec­tive state­ment, the Kick­starter union says that ?“The pan­dem­ic has done away with the illu­sion that tech labor is excep­tion­al­ly secure,” and that they are a demon­stra­tion to oth­ers in their indus­try that a union can not only pro­tect work­ers, but also ?“ensure the soft­ware we pro­duce not be deployed in ways that con­tribute to the mad­ness around us.”

?“Our expe­ri­ence has giv­en us hope that the pro­gres­sive cul­ture of Amer­i­can tech will rapid­ly lead to the wide­spread under­stand­ing that 2020 is the time to orga­nize,” the Kick­starter union says. ?“It’s time for Amer­i­can tech to move past its ?‘move fast, break things’ phase into an era of solv­ing real prob­lems for real peo­ple. We believe it falls to us, the work­ers, to imple­ment this ethos.”

Grace Reck­ers, an orga­niz­er at the Office and Pro­fes­sion­al Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union (OPEIU) who helped to orga­nize Kick­starter, says that there has been a sub­se­quent influx of inter­est from work­ers at oth­er tech com­pa­nies, and that there are sev­er­al new orga­niz­ing dri­ves in progress. She says that the stereo­type of tech employ­ees?—?indi­vid­u­al­is­tic engi­neers with lib­er­tar­i­an ideals and lit­tle inter­est in col­lec­tive action?—?is just not accu­rate. ?“In NYC, the oppo­site is true,” Reck­ers says. ?“A lot of peo­ple are dri­ven to work [at tech com­pa­nies] because of mis­sion-based val­ues of the com­pa­ny. They have pol­i­tics that align with some mis­sion of the com­pa­ny.”

Google famous­ly pro­claimed ?“Don’t Be Evil.” When such com­pa­nies are worth a tril­lion dol­lars, con­trol the media and exer­cise vast polit­i­cal pow­er, hold­ing them to their word can be a pow­er­ful moti­va­tion for employ­ees to orga­nize, even if those employ­ees are get­ting good salaries.

One of the only major unions that has launched a ded­i­cat­ed effort to orga­nize in tech is the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Work­ers of Amer­i­ca (CWA), which hired two orga­niz­ers this year for a cam­paign called CODE. Its lead orga­niz­er is Emma Kine­ma, who co-found­ed the video game indus­try group Game Work­ers Unite. Kine­ma sees the tech indus­try as a sprawl­ing mon­ster with ten­ta­cles that reach from the media to enter­tain­ment to logis­tics to retail, touch­ing almost every­thing. She wor­ries not only about the direct employ­ees of tech com­pa­nies, but also about the cease­less ten­den­cy of tech to shunt more and more work­ers into a ?“gig econ­o­my” pur­ga­to­ry. And while she says that inter­est in orga­niz­ing is grow­ing con­stant­ly among work­ers, she is blunt about the lack of resources being devot­ed to the issue on a nation­al scale.

?“On the whole, the U.S. labor move­ment has com­plete­ly failed to rise to the chal­lenge of orga­niz­ing the tech indus­try,” she says. ?“If the move­ment under­stood just how essen­tial orga­niz­ing in tech was, we’d be set­ting up orga­niz­ing com­mit­tees like the CIO did,” seiz­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty pre­sent­ed by the pandemic’s unrest to under­take a mas­sive and well-coor­di­nat­ed indus­tri­al orga­niz­ing effort.

Alas, that is not what’s hap­pen­ing. The fail­ure thus far to orga­nize tech is a direct result of the lack of any strong cen­tral lead­er­ship from the union move­ment. Even if the few union orga­niz­ers cur­rent­ly work­ing on tech are the best orga­niz­ers in the world, it’s laugh­able to think that a hand­ful of under­paid union staffers can rea­son­ably take on a mul­ti-tril­lion dol­lar indus­try. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of work­ers will need to be orga­nized, and, in all like­li­hood, a new union will have to be formed for that pur­pose, because no exist­ing union has the spare tens of mil­lions of dol­lars per year it will take to run such an orga­niz­ing cam­paign in any­thing close to an ade­quate way. Log­i­cal­ly, the AFL-CIO should coor­di­nate this kind of effort, pool­ing resources from many unions for the good of the move­ment. In real­i­ty, there is no evi­dence that any of the union world’s biggest pow­ers have even grasped how urgent this issue is.

Yes, it will be a long and very expen­sive process to union­ize tech. That is beside the point. In the long run, suc­cess­ful union­iza­tion of an indus­try cre­ates self-sus­tain­ing labor pow­er that can grow, as dues mon­ey from well-paid new union mem­bers is pooled and direct­ed to where it’s most need­ed. Besides, we have no choice. Ask some­one try­ing to cob­ble togeth­er a liv­ing as an Uber dri­ver or Instacart work­er how well the pow­er of a tech indus­try com­plete­ly unchecked by labor pow­er is serv­ing them. Either we orga­nize tech, or it will orga­nize the rest of us to serve it.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on August 26, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected]


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Kickstarter employees vote to unionize, this week in the war on workers

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The meteoric growth of the tech industry has, with few exceptions, created a new no-unions zone in the U.S. economy. Those exceptions, such as a group of Google contractors or Facebook’s bus drivers, have largely been contract workers rather than direct employees of tech companies. So the successful unionization vote at Kickstarter is something of a first.

During the organizing drive, Kickstarter fired two union supporters and hired an anti-union law firm. The workers and their union, the Office and Professional Employees International Union, have alleged retaliation and filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The vote was close—46 to 37—and Kickstarter is a comparatively small company. There remain big questions about whether tech can be unionized to any significant degree. But progress is progress, and wins are to be celebrated.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on February 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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