A New App Is Taking Labor Unions Out of Union Organizing

Unit is among several new digital platforms that aim to ease the unionization process and empower workers to stand up to their bosses, but some union organizers have their doubts.

By Lauren Kaori Gurley

Union members
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PHOTO BY LOIC VENANCE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

In July, a group of cell tower technicians who work for an AT&T contractor in the Philadelphia area approached the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) for help unionizing. The technicians’ wages were stagnant, they didn’t receive sick days, and had been urinating and defecating in trash bags and water bottles because their contractor wouldn’t provide port-a-potties. 

The IBEW never responded to the technicians—so they took a chance on a new startup for union organizing called Unit, which launched in December 2020 with $1.4 million in funding from various venture capital firms. Unit is “a platform that helps you and your coworkers form a labor union” by offering a set of tools, including a web app and a team of advisors that help clients facilitate and expedite the unionization process. It is designed to help with everything from inviting coworkers to join and sign union authorization cards, certifying the union, and negotiating a union contract with the aid of lawyers, accountants, and union organizers. Notably, it allows workers to do this as an independent union, without the aid of an established or nationally recognized union. 

The AT&T technicians aren’t far along in the unionization process, but one of the lead worker organizers says Unit has been a big help so far. “It’s been great,” the technician told Motherboard. “They helped me set up meetings with workers to explain the unionization process, provided legal advice, and gave us access to digital union authorization cards. You can send a text and the person follows the link, and they sign the digital card. It’s so easy.”

The technician told Motherboard that the main benefit of joining Unit is that the dues are less than many national unions charge. “Unit only takes 0.8 percent of your income. Most unions take a lot more,” he said. 

Workers begin paying fees to Unit after they ratify their first contract, which often includes pay increases that are larger than union dues. 

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Organizing at Amazon: What Went Wrong? (+1 more)

Jane McAlevey on the fight in Bessemer, plus Amy Wilentz on Hunter Biden.

By Start Making Sense and Jon Wiener

(Igor Golovniov / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images)

https://embeds.audioboom.com/posts/7844411/embed/v4

The union organizing campaign at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., was defeated by a vote of 1798 against and 738 in favor. Jane McAlevey argues that the biggest factor in the vote was the laws that give tremendous advantages to the corporate side—but the union itself made a series of tactical and strategic errors. Jane is The Nation’s strikes correspondent.

Also: Hunter Biden was the target of a massive Republican attack campaign for more than a year leading up to the election; at the same time, the gossip pages seized on his disastrous private life. They made the most of his decades of alcohol addiction and drug abuse, and his subsequent affair with the widow of his brother. Now he’s written a book—it’s called Beautiful Things: A MemoirAmy Wilentz comments.

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The Next Fight Against Voter Suppression

Dale Ho on Georgia, plus Karen Greenberg on ending our forever wars.

By Start Making Sense and Jon Wiener

(Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

https://embeds.audioboom.com/posts/7839139/embed/v4

There’s one political prediction that always comes true: Record turnout in one election will be followed by a tidal wave of voter suppression efforts before the next one. So it’s not surprising that after 2020 had record turnout, 2021 is seeing voting rights under attack nationwide by Republican-controlled state legislatures. Georgia has taken the lead—and Georgia is being challenged in court by the ACLU, along with the the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Dale Ho comments: He’s director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, and supervises the ACLU’s voting rights litigation nationwide.

Also: Joe Biden and Congress should end our forever wars—and they can—by starting with three key steps: Karen Greenberg explains. She is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and author, most recently, of Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State.

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