Though occupations like police officers, firefighters, teachers and others in the public sector have the highest union membership rates among all occupations, there’s an upward trend in sectors that have typically shied away from unions.
Low pay, a lack of transparency over fair pay, unsafe working conditions, exploitative work environments, and much more has influenced a growing number of employees in private sector industries — digital media, tech and cannabis — to find a “new” route to righting these workplace wrongs: unions. Thanks to the modernization of the labor movement, more people from nontraditional industries are becoming aware that any workplace can benefit from a union.
Below, we compiled a short list of some industries that are turning to unions for a seat at the table.
For years, digital media workers have seen job security — and with it, stable hours, competitive wages, and benefits — fall by the wayside, especially as media outlets get bought out and consolidated. As a result, fewer editors, reporters, and other newsroom staffers have been stretched thin while being asked to do more.
Additionally, the historically white and male media industry continues to be just that, prompting workers to demand their organizations create a more equitable workplace.
But media organizations are fighting back.
More than 80 media companies have organized. Here are just a few:
Unionization efforts across the board have resulted in raises, medical insurance, parental leave, more vacation and sick days, increased legal protections, increased transparency around hiring and layoffs, and editorial independence to name a few of the many benefits.
The heavily nuanced tech industry has also seen efforts from its workers to unionize.
Employees at grocery delivery platform Instacart won their election in early 2020, the “first time employees of tech companies that rely predominantly on contract labor have formed a union to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions,” wrote Nick Statt in The Verge.
And though Proposition 22 — the measure that sought to classify gig economy workers as employees — failed to pass in 2020, new legislation could make it possible for those gig economy workers to collectively bargain.
For full-time salaried workers, union efforts are also emerging. In February 2020, Kickstarter became the “first white-collar technology workforce to unionize in U.S. history,” Wired reported, which has prompted other companies to follow in their footsteps.
In January 2021, after years of protests and activism within the company, a group of more than 400 employees at Google formed the Alphabet Workers Union. Though the “minority union” cannot collectively bargain with its employer, it does serve as a stepping stone for possible efforts down the line.
And, most recently, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. voted to unionize. Regardless of the results of the vote, it stands as one of the most important union votes in recent history, especially considering that the e-commerce giant is one of the largest businesses in the world.
Cannabis has only recently seen an uptick in union-forming efforts from employees at all levels of the production process as the industry continues to navigate legalization in U.S. states.
Working conditions, fair pay, and benefits are among some of the impetuses for cannabis workers unionizing. And, similar to concerns seen in digital media and tech, the rapid consolidation of smaller businesses by larger behemoths has workers asking questions about how they will ultimately be impacted.
From an interview with a weed worker unionizing in Chicago, via Jacobin:
“This was cause for concern, to be bought out by such a powerful corporation without knowing what to expect from the job in a new industry. Is there room for advancement? What are the standard wages? Are there benefits?”
But workers are seeing success unionizing.
California is one of two states that requires cannabis stores to enter into “labor peace agreements,” Alexia Fernández Campbell of Vox writes. These peace agreements mean stores with 20 or more workers cannot prevent them from joining a union. The other state? New York, which just recently legalized recreational marijuana.
Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, has yet to see any workers in the cannabis industry unionize, though efforts have been made and the first union could be ratified at some point in 2021.