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Tech is largely non-union. Could media be the missing link?

Tech is largely non-union. Could media be the missing link?
[Photo: DESIGNECOLOGIST/Unsplash; OpenClipart-Vectors/Pixabay; mohamed_hassan/Pixabay]

Today employees at podcasting production company Gimlet Media announced their intention to form a union. In a letter to management, the workers said “[i]t’s important for us to solidify the things that make Gimlet a great place to work, and to address whatever issues may arise.” They ask for the company to voluntarily recognize the union.

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In today’s volatile media landscape, any new organization collectively coming together is big news. But Gimlet’s union is especially exciting because the company was recently bought by Spotify for over $200 million. When the music streaming giant bought the small podcasting outfit, it pledged not to mess with the formula that has been key to Gimlet’s success. This union announcement will be its big first test.

While many media institutions have formed unions–New York Magazine, the New Yorker, BuzzFeed News, and even us at Fast Company–it’s a different story for workers at tech companies. Despite movements at large tech operations like Amazon and Tesla, no consortium of employees at a technology company has managed to successfully form a union. These large companies have been known to utilize union-busting tactics, in fact.

This Gimlet announcement shows that one way to begin the momentum is to focus on work that is traditionally unionized yet operating within a larger entity. The one example we have of this is Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post–but the newspaper’s employees have had difficulty negotiating a contract with the billionaire Amazon founder. The Gimlet union would be the first real example of tech workers successfully organizing a union.

“The union feels like a really good solve for figuring out how to represent the interests of employee voices, and get a seat at the table with executives at Gimlet, and the team at Spotify,” Gimlet employee Rachel Ward told BuzzFeed News in an interview.

For now, we wait for how both Gimlet and Spotify to respond. A management spokesperson for Gimlet told BuzzFeed News that the company “received a formal notice from the WGAE union and plan to review” but had “nothing further to report at this time.” I reached out to Spotify for comment and will update this post if I hear back.

If Spotify does voluntarily recognize the union, it will send a clear message to other people in the industry that such a move is possible. And if Spotify resists, it will certainly be a less-than-savory look for the $26 billion company.

Disclosure: The Fast Company editorial staff is represented by the Writers Guild of America-East

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