We Need Tech Bros to Join Unions
The future success of unions in this country depends on tech bros joining them. This might sound crazy, but hear me out.
Tech bros, transported across cities in Ubers and Lyfts, fed by Doordash and Blue Apron, and coddled with everything from nap pods to self care allowances, seem like the last people to need unions.
But even though tech workers might make over 100k, the vast majority still have more in common in terms of rights and influence to the Uber drivers that transport and feed them than they do with their billionaire bosses. If you convince tech workers of this fact, something magical will happen: unions will become easier for everyone to join.
Tech bros have built a world where transportation, dinner, or a lifelike elephant inflatable are all available at the tap of a finger. With their tech wizardy they have the magical ability to make the world easier. If union workers can just convince tech bros they have mutual interests in terms of communal organizing, they will suddenly find the process of starting and running a union will become faster and more convenient for everyone. There is a world where community organizing is as easy as ordering takeout if we design it that way.
The next portion of this article bridges the gap between this lofty idea and practicality by going through aspects of union organizing and looking at how tech can change them for the better.
#1: Salary Negotiation Apps
Right now talking to your co-workers about your salary is downright awkward. There are websites like Blind that help people talk about salaries generally with people in their fields, but there’s less support for talking amongst people in your same company. We need a negotiation app where you can anonymously see what your salary is compared to others on your team, and one that gives you automated updates on when you should negotiate a raise based on inflation. It could even send automated, anonymous emails to your boss to alert them of suggested minimum raise levels.
#2: Data Visualizations to Understand Big Ratios
What if there was a website that showed what your boss made compared to other employees? What if this website had a nice slider that showed if the boss made a bit less, that money could be more broadly apportioned to everyone in the company? If people can directly see that if their boss and the shareholders got a little less, they can fight for smaller salary ratios between the lowest paid workers and the highest. Tech bros with data visualization skills have the power to make the vague idea that management would still be paid well if you are paid more clear, tangible, and in turn more actionable.
#3 Chatbots to Navigate the Landscape of Unions
Right now, unless you have someone already in your company that is a part of a union, it is really hard to see the full landscape of potential unions, where you might fit in, and how unions can benefit you directly. If you go to the American Unions web page, it has a very long list of various unions a person needs to comb through. When a worker finds a potential match, they then have to look through more web pages to find whether the union fits their specific industry and region. It’s slow. It’s confusing. A chat bot on the site where people can input their information and be shown directly whether there is an existing unions they can join, or how to start their own, can help bridge the expertise gap and better help many workers get started.
#4: Streamlining Negotiations with Software
When a majority of workers at a company have signed union support cards, they are submitted to the National Labor Relations Board to request a union election. This part can take several weeks, which provides ample time for employers to embark on anti-union information campaigns. Once a union group is approved, workers need to work with a union representative to create a contract and work closely with a group of employees to create buy-in and recruit others. Again, this process demands a lot of time and emotional labor from employees, and creates another point where employers can fire workers or use intimidation tactics.
Software can streamline the process of union registration and negotiation down to minutes. Applications can be automatically reviewed. Instead of each division or region creating their own individual contract, software can show what similar groups of employees have gotten to leverage this towards the next contract.
The website Workership is taking the lead in helping streamline the process of filling out contracts to cut down time and expenses. But there is still work to be done, especially in terms of speed and privacy. What if this platform could verify employment and then workers can negotiate with employers anonymously to cut down on potential intimidation?
#5: Private Social Networks to Create Unions at Scale
Amazon surveils employee listservs for employees that might start unions, and have gone so far as to hire Pinkerton spies to root out potential labor organizers. A private social network that can help people organize together, simultaneously, on a country-wide scale is necessary to create large-scale, lasting change to labor dynamics in the country.
This private social network for workers would need to have:
- Private, secure messaging like Signal.
- A paid subscription of 1–2 dollars a month so app owners do not need to sell data
- A secondary use — scholarships, job ads, information generally on how to succeed in the workplace to create a valid reason for workers to have the app outside of joining a union they can point to if their employers see them with this app on their phone.
- A monthly lottery for people on the app who have joined a union. This creates a clear, direct incentive for workplaces to unionize that is not as nebulous and long-term as creating a fairer workplace.
#6: More Crazy Ideas
All of our business systems are created by people, and all these systems can be remade. Below I have a few more crazy ideas. What are yours?
Ratiotic Raises — Fighting for individual wage increases is a losing battle. By the time you’ve won the right to $12 USD/hr, the living wage has increased to $15 USD/hr. What if there was a clause that the highest paid person could only be paid 50x more per hour than the lowest paid person (including contractors)? The highest paid worker can only get a raise when the lowest person also gets a raise.
Shareholder Tracking — An app that shows you every month the breakdown of the company’s expenses, profits, and profits to shareholders.
Retraining Fund — Whenever a corporation replaces a human with a robot, they are taxed at 20% of the gain in savings between human and robot to be placed in a retraining fund for people who are now out of jobs.
Worker Satisfaction tied to bonuses — B-Corps make it so companies need to conduct a yearly assessment on how companies are doing along the lines of governance, community, and environment. While becoming a BCorp is a large leap for most existing C-Corps, workers should push for management level raises to be directly linked to levels of worker churn and worker satisfaction.
How does one get a tech bro to be interested in problems they do not perceive to be their own? Below I offer two ideas, and there are likely many others.
Sponsor Hackathon Prizes
Hackathons attract young developers who have big ideals and low price tags since they are generally in college and willing to code for pizza. If you sponsor a $1,000 prize at hackathons, honestly the products you will get within 48 hours will likely not be usable or very good. But, these events can inspire students to create in new directions, and the next iterations of their ideas will get better and better.
People who worked for a time at a union job can get scholarships for coding bootcamps or degrees, with the promise to pay back that time working on tech projects that help union workers.
If tech workers can see past the free snacks and the foosball tables, they will see that in every way that matters, from mandated maternity leave and job security to influence on direction of the firm, most have as many rights as manufacturing workers. When they see this reality, tech workers have the additional responsibility to create platforms that can make community organizing easier and more accountable not simply for one store, or one factory, but for millions across the globe because they have the expertise to make these structural changes.
If you are interested in getting more involved with the intersection between tech and unions, join Tech for Workers, an initiative to provide all workers with the tools and technology to organize effectively.