Union organizers often operate in stealth. Even though unions already win a majority of union elections held, the more secrecy involved with their union organizing campaign, the higher the higher the likelihood they can “ambush” an employer, thus making it easier to win more.
This fact is not new.
However, with the NLRB’s new ambush-election rules now in effect, union organizers’ jobs may soon be made even easier thanks to today’s technology.
With digital journalists planning to gather in Louisville, Ky. to discuss unionizing (and attend bluegrass concerts) in October, the Century Foundation is seizing what seems to be a heated moment of virtual labor activism. The liberal think tank released a report today on new opportunities for online union-building — and called on app developers to get in on the action.
Gathering support among colleagues has long been the basic building block of labor organizers, and seems ideally suited to be done over social networks and mobile devices. One organizing platform, Coworker.org, has already seen success in mobilizing workers via mobile, and is raising funds to build a dedicated app for the task.
“If you can plan a party with an app, you should be able to organize a union,” wrote Moshe Marvit, a fellow at The Century Foundation and one of the report’s authors, in an email to BuzzFeed News.
Given the methods some employers have used to delay union drives — harassment, threats, increased scrutiny, delaying tactics and retaliatory firings — the study’s authors argue an app could make the process considerably smoother. Union organizers wouldn’t have to come directly to a workplace, and an app would help counter what the report calls “the standard anti-union message that unions are ‘interlopers’ or ‘outsiders.’”
Online communication gives workers privacy, so that they can get started quickly, Mark Zuckerman, president of The Century Foundation, told BuzzFeed News. That would be of particular advantage in signing up the critical mass of workers needed for the formal unionization process to begin.
“With an app, workers could get 30% of the cards signed before the employers know what’s happening,” he said.
In their report, the Century Foundation’s authors state:
Organizing a union through the use of online tools would allow employees to band together in a more organic, grassroots effort that does not require outside help to get things started. If there were 20,000 workplace election petitions per year, instead of the 2,000 filed last year, the percentage of the workforce in private unions could increase into the double digits, based on past experience.
As the authors re-iterate: One of the key advantages for using an app for organizing is stealth.
[S]uch technology would allow workers an easy and efficient means to communicate effectively and safely outside the view of the employer. Conducting an organizing campaign quickly and discreetly—until a majority of workers have signed authorization cards—allows workers to have meaningful conversations about the workplace and the benefits of organizing, without employer threats or anti-union campaigns.
Image credit: buckethandle, Flickr / Via flic.kr