The trend in this latest labor activism started in early April 2021 when some Google workers said they were creating a union to fight injustices. This created some debates and confusion among onlookers.
For them, why would staff at a big tech company popular for free lunches and high salaries want a union? The move, however, signified a rising battle over ethics, equity, and labor rights at the big tech firms, one that goes beyond perks and wages.
With this growing union drive among the big tech company workers, maybe it’s time for the tech industry to have a proper labor movement. To be straightforward. I think this is the time the tech industry needs a labor movement. Why is this so? Read on.
Big guns like Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Silicon Valley are popular companies influencing the online market while being staffed by hundreds of thousands of workers and contractors.
Union fights or drives have come up among these workers, contractors, and groups of blue-collar tech workers in the past few years. Labor activism is also propping up among more privileged employees.
Requests for better welfare, stronger action against sexual harassment, and support for more women and people of color have already influenced changes at the big techs.
There have been pockets of labor drives and battles at the giant firms. From 2021, after the Covid-19 post-containment challenges, unionization battles became inevitable at the big tech companies.
Since then, there has been rising tension between management and workers, which represents a power struggle as tech giants became corporate behemoths with no or small accountability.
Staff at Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube have tried to mount pressure on their employers to clamp down on racist, abusive, and sexist content on their social platforms.
On the issue of equity, most Amazon workforce laborers in warehouses, including janitors, don’t receive the same protections and benefits as employees. And several works are seen as white-collar, like moderating content, selling software, and writing codes, are done by contractors.
One happened at an Amazon warehouse in early 2021, which became the highest-profile labor fight since 2010.
For years, the e-commerce giant has fought unionization attempts. An instance happened in November 2020 when workers at a Bessemer warehouse gave notice to the NLRB that they would hold a union vote. They called for a 7-week mail-in voting that started on 8 February 2021 for about 6,000 workers.
In its anti-union fights, Amazon created an anti-union website called DoItWithoutDues.com to discourage workers from voting, paying some dues, and joining the Wholesale Department and Retail Store Union.
This Amazon anti-union website is not the only instance where a company is pushing against union efforts. Google, in 2019, employed IRI Consultants, a company known for operating against anti-unions, to fight against union drives in Google.
The company also sacked many workers for organizing a union with other staff. According to Google, the employees broke rules on information-sharing. In late 2020, the NLRB accused Google of spying on the workers and later firing them.
In particular, Google’s decision in December 2020 to sack its star AI researcher, a prominent Black woman in the field, led to calls against censoring research critical of Google and many requests to investigate the outspoken employees’ firings.
Google was also one of the companies that asked the NLRB to overturn a Barack Obama regulation that forced workers to allow them to use company email for labor/union movements.
More so, while many Silicon Valley leaders see their organizations as a good meritocracy, where staff are generously compensated and don’t require a union for advocacy, we’ve seen a rising number of activists that the companies don’t agree with and have tried to clamp down.
In Silicon Valley, unionization efforts have continued to pop up, mainly focused on improving safety and wages. These were heightened during the covid-19 pandemic when safety concerns increased.
The need for a labor movement
Unions can help employees make their voices heard about the problems they face in their workplaces.
What happens in these big techs matters globally. Other firms look to them for ideas on ways to structure their workplaces and workforces while creating equitable human resources policies.
Having a successful labor or union movement at the big tech companies will also be a major win for the labor/union movement, whose powers have been shrinking in the past few decades.
It’s sad to see how the big techs are stopping the movement. It’s also strange to see that the companies that have made much money off human labor are against the labor drives and movements. This stance is evidenced in their union-drive responses seen above.
Big tech companies like Twitter, Silicon Valley, Google, Facebook, and Amazon have tried to supplant the union drives and movements in their platforms following workers’ discrimination and lack of proper DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion).
However, the good news is that more calls and actions for union drives or fights are increasing. And even if unionization efforts don’t happen among most tech workers, the talks are making a real change in the big corporations’ DEI efforts.
I’d like to add that the debate over the level of power the employees should have to influence decisions in their companies, who gets hired or fired, and if the wide use of contractors should continue are far from over.
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