Virtual labour organising could be how the next generation of workers get unionized

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

Virtual labour organising, 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:

Organising 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 organising 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 per cent of workers use Internet, email, or mobile devices to connect them to work, and some 81 per cent of employees spend an hour or more on email during the workday.

Communication in the organising process is difficult. Employees wanting to unionize often have to communicate secretly, as “many employers use delaying tactics to slow down organising drives, launch aggressive campaigns to discourage employees from signing a petition or voting to join the union, or even engage in unfair labour 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 organising process, despite the fact that Gawker CEO Nick Denton claimed to be “intensely relaxed” about his employees organising.

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 organise and join a labour 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 organise. 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 “organising” part of labour organising.

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