The Changing Digital Face of Labor Unions

Unions are not just for the blue collar manufacturing plant anymore. Organized labor is making headway into the digital office, which has up until now been unchartered terrain for traditional unions.

The recent wave of successful union drives in digital newsrooms, as well as in tech industry support services like distribution warehouses and shuttle buses, is leaving industry and news outlets feeling insecure these days.    While developers and other employees who work directly for large tech companies such as Google and Facebook still enjoy privileged services, recent unionization efforts at parallel support service contractors like Adecco are hitting close to home on tech worker turf.

Compass Transportation and Bauer’s Intelligent Transport Services are two companies that run the shuttle buses that transport tech employees in the ubiquitous wifi-equipped buses with tinted windows that have been accused by social justice and public transit activists of starving public transportation services and taking over public bus stops.

But unions and community organizations in Silicon Valley are fighting back.

Bob Brownstein, labor activist for community group Silicon Valley Rising and staff member at Working Partnerships in the South Bay told KQED last month that today, it’s not just about “the struggles of security guards and cafeteria workers and shuttle drivers. It’s about a much larger low-wage sector that’s trapped in Silicon Valley.”    

In close proximity to the tech frontier recent unionization campaigns are raging and being waged. Web writers at online journalism outlets such as Gawker and have won contracts with the Writers Guild of America, East following in The Guardian’s footsteps, when the major news outlet’s US presence joined NewsGuild-CWA last month.

The changing face of unions, with more digital and social features, is likewise garnering increased support for unions from the US American public. Last week, a Gallup poll showed that union support in the United States jumped to 58% this year, up from 53% last year.  

Local 21 members contribute to the smooth operation of public information systems throughout the Bay Area, including SFMTA’s recent IT upgrades (read more about this in our Special Q&A with SFMTA Employee and L21 member Virdis Gamble) as well as worked on developing the San Francisco Airport’s GPS tracking and geo-zoning for revenue collection from Lyft and Uber cars. 

Given that information technology workers make up roughly 10% of L21 membership, these recent unionization efforts of digital workers in the private sector can serve as a promising opportunity to strengthen our ranks as well.