Protocol | Workplace Tech Employee Survey

Half of the tech workforce wants to join a union

In a survey of tech industry workers, about 50% of respondents said they are very or somewhat interested in joining a union in their workplace, and more than 60% of millennials said they were interested.

Google employees walk off the job to protest the company's handling of sexual misconduct claims

Just under 50% of tech industry workers said that to their knowledge, there is definitely or probably interest in forming a union at their workplace.

Image: Mason Trinca / Getty Images

A decade ago, many tech workers seemed more concerned with their stock options than forming a union. But in the last two years, a growing list of tech workers have formed unions or tried to, including a very powerful and rapidly-expanding one at Google — and about half of all tech workers are now interested in joining a union, according to a survey conducted by Protocol in partnership with Morning Consult.

Fifty percent of survey respondents who identify as technology industry workers said that they are very or somewhat interested in joining a union at their workplace in the survey, conducted from June 17-July 2. Just under 50% of tech industry workers also said that to their knowledge, there is definitely or probably interest in forming a union at their workplace. (To review margins of error and other questions about methodology, see this explanation of how Protocol designed the survey.)

"That's kind of crazy, in some ways, because unions in tech aren't a thing. And still one out of two workers are like, this is a good idea," said Wes McEnany, the director of CODE-CWA. CODE-CWA is the Communications Workers of America's dedicated effort to unionize the tech industry. So far, the CWA tech-focused effort represents the Alphabet Workers Union, Mobilize, Mapbox, the New York Times tech guild, Glitch and others, and all but Glitch formally announced their unions in 2021. The Office and Professional Employees International Union has also embarked on a similar effort for smaller tech companies, called Tech Workers Local 1010, which represents the Kickstarter union.

"Obviously we've seen a ton of interest since we've launched the CODE campaign. The Alphabet Workers Union continues to grow, that's gotten a lot of play with a lot of folks. There is something really encouraging here," McEnany said.

In the survey, Protocol found very little difference in union interest by racial or ethnic identity; people who identify as Black or white, for example, had nearly identical levels of interest, just above and below 50%. For McEnany, this data helped confirm his theory that questions of race had little relationship to whether workers are interested in unionization. "I don't think race matters much in these things," McEnany said. "Workers have issues. Tech companies have problems that are problems for everybody. And there's issues around race that piss off all of the workers, because white workers are offended and angry that they can't retain workers of color."

Click to download the full report

But while ethnic and racial identity doesn't play a very big role, age certainly does. Millennials are far more interested in joining unions than any other generation in the workforce; more than 60% of survey respondents in that age range said they are definitely or probably interested, compared to less than 40% for Generation X and Generation Z (although the Gen Z sample size was very small), and below 10% for baby boomers. That data aligns with McEnany's experience, who said that most of the people who approach him about forming a union are millennial or Gen Z. "That just generally tracks with building unions, younger people generally lead the way on social change," he said.

Unions tend to form during short moments of high-pressure social change, according to McEnany, and he said that interest is so unusually high because young people are, at the moment, feeling that pressure. "Historically, we form unions in industries in upsurges. They sort of happen in these compression points that happen over not very many years," he said.

Some corporate leaders see tech worker unionization as an indication that workers are collectively organizing to change a culture or environment they dislike. "I think that the union is a really important solution to a problem. But it's also recognition that there was a problem to be solved in the first place inside, it's like any company where there are employees unionizing. It's like, man, you gotta listen," said Expensify CEO David Barrett at a Protocol event Tuesday.

Yet many of the people leading worker organizing efforts instead understand unions to be a force that helps protect workers and also ensures good cultures remain that way. Many of the new unions have formed at small, very progressive tech workplaces, like Mobilize. The union didn't form to address any one glaring issue, but instead as part of an effort to codify and preserve the cultural benefits of working at the company. "Obviously we have a privileged position where we work for a progressive employer, but if we don't do it, how are the people who are going to work for less progressive employers going to do it?" one Mobilize employee told Protocol in March. "Like Glitch, I think that we can serve as an example for other employers to see that it doesn't have to be this really confrontational process, so that we can work together to figure out what workers want," he said.

"The fact that this many people that are going to be in the workforce for the next 30-40 years are interested in unions, it gives us a lot of hope," McEnany said. "They have a perspective that things are messed up and they should have more agency at their jobs, a lot of problems that are innate to their creation, and things need to change, and for me this data is confirming that."

Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.

Why Coda thinks documents are the internet's next big platform

Shishir Mehrotra on the long-overdue reinvention of documents, presentations and spreadsheets.

Not much has changed about documents since the days of Microsoft Word 1.0. But innovation is picking up again.

Image: Microsoft

The way Shishir Mehrotra sees it, digital documents haven't really changed in 50 years. Since the days of WordStar, Harvard Graphics and VisiCalc, the basic idea of what makes up a document, presentation and spreadsheet haven't really changed.

Now, thanks to companies like Coda — where Mehrotra is founder and CEO — along with Notion, Quip and others, that's starting to change. These companies are building tools that can do multiple things in a single space, that are designed both for creating and for sharing, and that turn documents from "a piece of paper on a screen" into something much more powerful. And to hear Mehrotra tell it, documents are headed toward a future that looks more like an operating system than a Word file.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Protocol | Enterprise

Why Segment is central to Twilio’s path to enterprise software stardom

Given Apple's recent changes to third-party tracking technology and Google's looming changes, the customer data platform provider is poised to play a central role in Twilio's product vision moving forward.

The launch of Engage points to the critical role Segment will play in Twilio's future.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This week at Twilio's annual conference, it's Segment, the company it acquired last year for $3.2 billion, that's poised to take center stage.

Signal kicks off on Wednesday. Alongside Michelle Obama, one of the highlights of the two-day event is bound to be Twilio Engage, a new product that showcases the combined capabilities of the cloud communications provider and Segment, the customer data platform vendor that Twilio bought last November.

Keep Reading Show less
Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Latest Stories