September 1, 2019; Quartz
As a team of writers (Sarah Todd, Lila MacLellan, Michelle Cheng, and Hanna Kozlowska) at Quartz note, roughly 10.5 percent of the labor force—about 14.7 million people, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—are members of unions. While this number reflects unionization rates far lower than at mid-century, the writers find “evidence that a shift toward a more union-friendly future is afoot—particularly in white-collar professions.”
Among the examples Todd and her coauthors provide are the following:
- Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh: “Recently employees at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh formed a collective bargaining unit with the United Steelworkers union,” Quartz “Roughly 60 percent of the 321 eligible employees, including librarians, librarian assistants, clerks, and IT technicians, voted in favor of the union.” A desire to have a say in budget discussions was cited as a primary reason for the workers’ decision to unionize.
- BuzzFeed: In February, BuzzFeed workers announced their decision to unionize with the News Guild of New York, a month after the company laid off 15 percent of its roughly 1,450 employees. Key demands include due process, support for severance amid layoffs, and the extension of benefits to so-called “permalancers.”
- Santander Bank: “Some 15,000 US tellers for Santander Bank attempted to unionize in 2017, led by the Committee for Better Banks (CBB), a workers group affiliated with the Communications Worker of America (CWA),” the Quartz team writes. Tellers were seeking basic wage and benefit gains. While bank teller unionization in the US is rare, Erin Mahoney of CBB tells Quartz that in Europe and other countries where bank tellers are unionized, the job is considered largely middle-class.
- Riot Games: Computer games, Quartz notes, are now a $130 billion industry. As the Quartz team points out, layoffs in the industry are common and “employees are worked to the point of exhaustion during what’s known as ‘crunch’ periods in the lead-up to a new release. That’s when work weeks can stretch to 80 hours or more,” a point that was also emphasized in an episode last month of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s show Patriot Act. Unionization in this industry has not occurred yet, but a walkout took place last spring in California.
- Kickstarter: At Kickstarter, a group called Kickstarter United, an affiliate of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), has sought to unionize, reports the Quartz The union effort became public last March. It remains to be seen if workers will obtain company recognition of their union, but if they were to succeed, Kickstarter would be the first major tech company to unionize.
- Guggenheim: As Quartz reports, workers at the Guggenheim Museum voted to join Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers in early June. “The union will represent around 140 full-time and on-call employees including art handlers, exhibition construction workers, as well as facilities employees such as maintenance mechanics and engineers,” Quartz
Todd and her Quartz colleagues add that these different events form part of a larger trend. Bret Schulte, who teaches journalism at the University of Arkansas, wrote last April in Slate, that the professional middle class is increasingly demonstrating an interest in workplace-based collective action. Whether it is walkouts at Google or traditional union organizing, worker organizing appears to be becoming increasingly common.—Steve Dubb