Virtual labor organizing could be how the next generation of workers get unionized


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The Century Foundation has a new report out today proposing that union elections be organized and held online.

Virtual labor organizing, it says, could be the key to getting a new generation of workers in unions. It would also be much easier than the current process.

From the post:

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.

The goal of virtual organizing would be to innovate and experiment with a new platform that is faster, homegrown, and simplified for workers to gain influence at work. Given how much today’s workers rely on information technology to do their jobs, there might be significant receptivity to this new online tool. Some 96 percent of workers use Internet, e-mail, or mobile devices to connect them to work, and some 81 percent of employees spend an hour or more on e-mail during the workday.

Communication in the organizing process is difficult. Employees wanting to unionize often have to communicate secretly, as “many employers use delaying tactics to slow down organizing drives, launch aggressive campaigns to discourage employees from signing a petition or voting to join the union, or even engage in unfair labor practices.”

Even without roadblocks from employers, the current system can be hard to navigate. Last week, staffers at the news website Gawker voted to unionize. Before the vote, there was a discussion on the site’s commenting platform, Kinja, about how and why staffers were going to vote for or against. Some of the no votes came from a frustration over the apparently badly handled communication about the organizing process, despite the fact that Gawker CEO Nick Denton claimed to be “intensely relaxed” about his employees organizing.

So how would this virtual online unionization tool work, according to the Century Foundation?

A new, state-of-the-art virtual platform would allow average employees in workplaces across the country to organize and join a labor union with much more ease. A well-designed platform would avoid many of the roadblocks that employers often throw down when they see efforts to organize. The platform would provide an interactive, step-by-step process so that employees know what to expect at each stage, and how to handle hurdles that may arise.

Sounds like automating the “organizing” part of labor organizing.