Big Tech is no stranger to political controversy, having faced years of criticism and calls for action from policymakers for a myriad of alleged failures. But companies today find themselves increasingly embattled by a new stakeholder group: their own employees.
This report details the rise of activism and unionization in the tech sector as organizing efforts have moved from blue-collar workers to white-collar workers. It surveys the tech industry’s response thus far, including the challenges faced and the varied efforts to respond. The goal is to help executives and policy professionals confronting this challenge make sense of the debate, and the report provides possible paths towards solutions.
- Labor activism is growing. Labor activism in the tech industry has grown dramatically in recent years, mobilizing along two parallel but distinct tracks: blue-collar and white-collar.
- The contract & gig economy workforce presents new challenges. Blue-collar employment organized via tech platforms – comprising the contract and gig economy workforce – challenges existing legal frameworks for structuring labor relations, motivating demands for new solutions and policy frameworks.
- White-collar workers are driven by “identity” and social justice. The organization of white-collar tech sector workers is unique, driven primarily by non-economic motivations related to “identity,” such as the social justice implications of corporate strategy and external use of their technological innovations. They are not, however, without historical precedent.
- Existing big unions lead the way. Big Tech unionization is largely inspired, underwritten, organized, and choreographed by existing big unions, such as the Communication Workers of America and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
- Alternative organizing models are emerging. Labor relation discussions are moving beyond a binary “union/no union” choice as stakeholders propose innovative ways of structuring labor to balance meaningful protections for workers with the benefits of flexible work.
- National governments are reacting differently. The regulatory response to Big Tech unionization varies internationally. The US has only recently, under President Biden, embraced a clear pro-union attitude. Canada, the UK, other European jurisdictions, and even governments in Asia have been more forthcoming in their consideration of the global precarious workforce whose fragile circumstances as members of the gig economy have been a springboard for unionization in the tech industry.