2021 May Bring Pro-Labor and Unionization Movement in Tech

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 20: Google's offices stand in downtown Manhattan on October 20, 2020 in New York City. Accusing the company of using anticompetitive tactics to illegally monopolize the online search and search advertising markets, the Justice Department and 11 states Tuesday filed an antitrust case against Google. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

There are several reasons to expect a bigger worker push to unionize in 2021, particularly in the tech industry. For one, the new Biden administration is expected to promote more labor-friendly policies, including a shift in the National Labor Relations Board. Secondly, the forced work-from-home policies that continue to dominate the workplace have made it easier for unions to communicate with workers. Finally, both Congress and the public have begun questioning Amazon, Google, and other tech giants for their workplace policies. Amazon, in particular, has faced significant criticisms over its treatment of workers.

Unionization Efforts Already Underway

For many tech workers, the unionization process is already underway. In Bessemer, Alabama, for example, nearly 6,000 Amazon workers will vote soon to determine whether they will join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Amazon and the Union had arguments before the National Labor Relations Board in late December. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union represents a variety of workers in brick-and-mortar stores such as Macy’s.

Amazon has fought vigorously to keep its workers from unionizing, going as far as to hire Pinkerton detectives to spot unionizing efforts worldwide. Amazon, which has hired an average of 1,400 workers a day, is on pace to become the nation’s largest private employer in a few years, eclipsing Walmart.

At Alphabet, Inc., meanwhile, employees Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw wrote an op-ed in the New York Times stating that “. . . 226 of us have signed union cards with the Communications Workers of America — the first step in winning a recognized bargaining unit under U.S. law. In other words, we are forming a union.”

Koul and Shaw are the Executive Chair and Vice Chair of the Alphabet Workers Union, respectively. In their opinion, leadership at Alphabet, Inc. has failed to do enough to address diversity and inclusion, has retaliated against workers who reported sexual harassment, and does not provide contractors and temp workers with enough pay and benefits. They seek to improve on all these issues through unionization. However, the union does not have collective bargaining rights since it did not go through the NLRB, and 226 workers in a company the size of Alphabet is unlikely to bring a significant amount of pressure on one of the most influential companies in the world.

Most Tech Workers Not In a Union

While there may be an increased number of unions in the next few years, by no means is the industry likely to change in a short time. Outside of a relative few instances, most tech workers are not in a union. And the NLRB itself will remain in Republican hands until at least 2022, and perhaps longer, depending on how the political appointments play out. The upshot is that while unionization movements appear to be gaining momentum, the industry is unlikely to change dramatically in 2021. But pro-labor movements in tech are likely to make inroads over the coming year.

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