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An Open Letter to Tech Industry Workers: Unionize

Dear tech industry workers,

You should unionize. And you should do it sooner rather than later.

Some of y’all already have, and that’s great. This letter is for all of the developers, engineers, technicians, marketers, creatives, warehouse workers, and other folks in the industry who haven’t yet.

Look around you. Within the ranks of the millions of individual contributors in the tech industry are some of the most brilliant, hard-working folks alive. Imagine the impact you could have if you band together with your fellow workers. The world runs on the technology you help create, market, sell, deliver, maintain, and support. There is power in numbers, friends. You should unionize.

The bosses and their apologists in management will, of course, have strong opinions about organized labor as well. Should you attempt to unionize, be prepared. There will be backpedaling, mea culpas, and assurances that you can trust managers and executives. They’ll try to divide and subdue the rumblings. There will be talk of second chances and being on the right track after all these years. You will hear veiled threats from some people. They might even present compelling evidence to show that a union is unnecessary, illogical, or even inhibiting.

Don’t trust them.

Be wary of anyone who discourages your efforts to organize and bargain collectively for a better workplace. It is your right as a worker. Without a doubt, this runs contrary to the trendy tenets tech workers often receive as decrees from management nowadays like “operating with high trust” and “being customer obsessed.” Those kinds of directives seem almost noble on the surface. But they’re really just syntactic sugar for eliminating transparency, stifling dissent, and maintaining as much control over their (ahem, human) resources as they possibly can. This may all sound a bit Orwellian, but you have to keep the context in mind. Your employment with your company is, fundamentally, a business transaction between a potentially multi-billion-dollar corporation and you.

Executives can display charisma, generosity, and genuine kindness. After all, they’re not bad people, right? Then again, kind-hearted ranchers take good care of their chickens. They feed them well and nurture them. They may even keep the chickens out of cages to roam around if it increases productivity. But the rancher knows what’s eventually going to happen. And the chickens, as it turns out, don’t get to have a say.

Even the most benevolent dictatorship is still a dictatorship.

The reality is, without a binding legal agreement stating otherwise, management ultimately controls everything. They can hire, fire, restructure, pivot, and shift priorities. They can eliminate your entire department without notice. They can abscond to private retreats, communicate through backchannels, and do just about anything they please as long as there is no proof that they broke any laws. They’re not obligated to honor the company handbook, and they can even change the rules without asking you or telling you.

Contrary to what a lot of people believe, unionizing is not really about getting paid more; it’s about wielding collective power. But since we’re on the topic of compensation, those generous benefits and perks that many of you already enjoy are surely worth protecting with a binding agreement, right? How else might you improve your workplace for yourself and other employees? Would you like clear, enforceable guidelines to ensure the company follows objective processes for salary increases, promotions, equity grants, and performance reviews? Anyone feeling overworked and under-appreciated? How many of you would enjoy more stability in your daily work and priorities? Would you like to have the power to say no to work assignments that conflict with your morals or ethics? What about having a built-in legal recourse for situations when you can’t turn to HR? (they work for the bosses, by the way.)

Executives will come and go, and with them their sundry visions, their tepid mission statements, and their cherished collections of quotes uttered by other executives. The future of tech, in reality, hinges upon the people who do the work. These are people with families, feelings, and lives outside of work, all of which are infinitely more important than any deal, any project, or any line of code they will ever write.

Friends, if you unionize, you can protect the things that are important, you can democratize your workplace by shifting power from the few to the many, and you can make the executives share control of your livelihood by bargaining with them as a legally-recognized group. Management can promise all sorts of things (and probably will after reading this), but remember: a promise from management is only as good as the collective bargaining agreement it is written into.

In the tech industry, of all places, you know working together makes you more powerful. Taking care of each other makes you stronger. Solidarity helps you hold yourselves and each other accountable. Most of all, you know that standing up for yourself, your rights, and your fair share is easier when you’ve got people standing behind you.

Make it official. Get it in writing. Unionize.

Written by

Area dad. Occasional vigilante politician. Anti-corruption. Pro-electoral reform. Fighting for working people.

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