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2022 was the biggest tech year yet for unions and workplace organizing

Illustration of a dialog box called "unite" With the cursor aiming for the OK button

Illustrated by Sarah Grillo/Axios

2022 saw an unprecedented increase in unionization at US tech companies. Just as the tank economy changed the dynamics of the industry, some workers claimed their collective rights.

Yes, but: So far, the tech industry labor movement has been dominated by Amazon warehouse workers, Apple Store employees, and video game QA testers leading organizing efforts, while engineers, product teams, and other headquarters staff mostly avoiding and moving heavily around the industry.

Where tech workers will be organized in 2022

Staten Island Amazon Staff After workers voted against unionization in Alabama last year, Warehouse voted to become the first major retail union in the United States in April.

Multiple Apple Store Employees Voting for unions this year included Apple’s flagship store in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal in April, a store in Maryland in June, and a store in Oklahoma City in October.

Collective action pressure in the video game industry Workers have been building for years, citing grueling schedules and hostile working conditions. 2022 will see the formation of the first US union at a major game publisher.

Line spacing: These moves mean that Microsoft, which still wants to complete its acquisition of Activision Blizzard despite regulatory issues, will soon become a union employer.

  • Microsoft announced in June that it had reached a “neutrality agreement” with the union that organized Activision’s workers and promised not to interfere in unionization efforts.
  • Last week, hundreds of workers at ZeniMax Studio Group, which Microsoft acquired for $7.5 billion in 2020, announced they were taking steps to vote to unionize.
  • A Microsoft spokesperson told Axios, “We remain committed to providing employees with the opportunity to freely and fairly choose their representation in the workplace.”
Tech’s history of rejecting unions

Zoom out: An explosion of tech company organizing has overcome decades of Silicon Valley resistance to unions.

  • The industry emerged in the 80’s and 90’s when free market ideas dominated. Most technology leaders and many workers saw unions as a relic of the analog age, a drag on the economy, a constraint on flexibility and efficiency.
  • The tech industry operates under an unspoken bargain with skilled workers. They can get stock option ownership and high compensation in return for ununionizing their workplaces.

But today The wider public favors unions.

  • At the same time, as the industry faces its worst recession in two decades, the attractiveness of tech stock options has weakened, at least temporarily.
union perspective

What they say: “The speed of organizing and the importance of winning that we are seeing is unlike anything I have experienced in my life,” he told Axios.

  • Steffens believes the rise of tech unions in 2022 is the result of years of cultural change and organizing efforts due to the pandemic.
  • “When you have QA testers who are in crisis with so much work and the health burden that comes with it, they know they are being exploited,” Steffens said. say.
  • Amazon, Apple, Activision Blizzard, and NLRB declined to comment for this article.

Steffens praised Microsoft’s approach “Show other tech companies that there are other ways to do this than digging in and fighting. I have.”

  • “People will understand that it turned out to be a really good business for Microsoft.”
Next Steps: Contract Negotiations During Layoffs

Tech Labor Organizing is still in its early stages.

  • Only a few unions have been successfully formed and most of them still face the often difficult process of negotiating contracts with employers.

Labor shortage due to pandemic It temporarily pushed workers’ leverage to extraordinary heights, but that dynamic could change again as the economy slows.

To the point: Steffens predicts that the “exponential” momentum built in 2022 will continue in 2023.

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