Big tech doubles down on union busting as labor movement intensifies

The news: Amazon workers in Staten Island voted to unionize Monday, and Apple is reportedly hiring labor-busting legal counsel to stave off unionization efforts as tech workers continue to organize.

Why it’s worth watching: Tech workers seeking to unionize are seeing a groundswell of success but face pushback from Big Tech companies looking to stall employee efforts.

  • 1,500 Amazon employees at a Staten Island, New York, facility are eligible to vote in the election that ends Friday night, per NPR. An Amazon warehouse across the street, with 8,300 employees, unionized earlier this month.
  • After workers at Apple Cumberland Mall in Atlanta moved to unionize, Apple reportedly hired lawyers from Littler Mendelson, a firm specializing in labor and employment litigation, per AppleInsider.
  • "Pay is so unequal at the stores—there are people who've been in roles for less time making more than people who've worked in those same roles for years,” an Apple employee told the Verge.
  • 50% of tech workers are now interested in joining a union, according to a 2021 Tech Employee Survey conducted by Protocol and Morning Consult.
  • The balance of power seems to be shifting in workers’ favor at a time when regulation and antitrust legislation are on an upswing.

A rising tide: Big Tech is facing a deluge of organization efforts seeking more transparent employment practices. This comes at a time when Big Tech’s wealth, influence, and growth is at an all-time high.

  • "Private sector unionization has been on a steady decline for decades. The very high-profile addition of an 8,300-person bargaining unit at the Amazon facility in Staten Island brings unionization to the front,” said Hugh Murray, chair of McCarter & English's labor and employment law practice.
  • “Most employers don’t want their staff to unionize,” says Jonathan LaCour, founder and managing attorney at Employees First Labor Law. “Tech companies facing this situation should look at Tesla for an example of how to handle it. Tesla was able to demonstrate that—with its stock options and benefits—the company’s overall compensation package was higher than what was offered by the union,” LaCour explains. “They proved that … to unionize, the employees would go backwards.”

What’s next? Companies like Amazon, which has over a million employees, and Apple, which has 154,000 employees, will need to tread lightly. A heavy-handed approach to unionizing employees could scare off potential hires, while a climate of prolonged labor struggle exposes companies to antitrust scrutiny and is bad for business.