The past six months have been brutal for tech workers across the industry. Tens of thousands of our colleagues at Twitter, Meta, Amazon, and other companies have been stripped of their livelihoods. Those who remain are subject to an increased pressure to deliver with fewer teammates to help do the work.
The recent actions by a handful of executives have made clear that tech workers are on the chopping block. If we want a better reality for ourselves and our colleagues, tech workers everywhere must unionize at an unprecedented scale.
The tech industry is notorious for profitable booms and disastrous busts. The dot-com bubble and the 2008 financial crisis have taught us that unlimited growth in the tech sector is impossible. When faced with the prospect of a flagging economy, tech bosses are quick to signal a bizarre sort of responsibility to shareholders by cutting workers’ jobs while leaving executive compensation and stock buybacks—two huge expenditures—unscathed. The costs of mismanagement and market cycles are shouldered by developers, recruiters, salespeople, and designers at the bottom. Despite the impact this has on our lives, as well our families and loved ones, we are told this is the “price of doing business.” Without unity and having a seat at the table, we are unable to fight back.
Tech companies have long told workers that as long as we invest in their mission, work hard and embody corporate values we will enjoy unrivaled pay, benefits and job security. The recent layoffs are revealing this to be untrue, and full-time employees of “Big Tech” are beginning to experience the disregard and precarity that companies have long shown to their contract workforces. These indirect employees have been denied the flashy benefits of Silicon Valley software engineers while powering much of the underlying infrastructure of tech companies.
As tech workers, we have long been dissuaded from organizing. One prominent venture capitalist claimed that tech workers trying to unionize were “appropriating the language of exploited coal miners while enjoying the most privileged, white collar work experience in human history.” The truth is, our expertise should be recognized and used to shape our workplace—to cultivate a true democracy where workers get a say in their projects and are free from arbitrary terminations. Our current system hires, fires and promotes employees with minimal transparency; workers are continually shuffled in corporate reorganizations and repeatedly pivoted to vanity and questionable projects like the metaverse and cryptocurrency. It does not have to be this way.
We are organizing to build the power necessary to sit opposite management as equals and be treated with respect and dignity—not as fungible employee cogs. Unionizing at a massive scale would allow us to win certified bargaining agreements with management, protect ourselves from arbitrary layoffs and establish a voice in the key business decisions that impact our lives. Even without legal recognition from our bosses, Alphabet Workers Union (AWU-CWA Local 1400) has been extremely successful in building power in the workplace.
Last year, Google promised attendance bonuses to data center workers who risked their health to work in person during the height of the pandemic, only to rescind them once workers had returned. The AWU-CWA member data center technicians pushed back, threatened a strike, and within hours received their promised bonuses. At a Seattle Google office in June, AWU-CWA members who maintain Google Maps through a vendor company faced an ultimatum: come back to work or lose your job. Many struggled to pay for the gas to get to the office. Instead of taking on individual fights, over 200 of them threatened a strike and ultimately won a return-to-office extension, a major concession from executives.
The lesson is clear: AWU-CWA has won real victories that would simply not have been possible without a collective voice. If tech workers want to leverage the power necessary to secure our jobs and have real ownership over our work, we must continue to organize. All it takes to start is a conversation with your coworker. If you have enough conversations with your coworkers, you have a union, and we can tell you with confidence and pride: it is worth it. There is power in a union. Now is the time to step into your power.
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