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“In California, unionism has become cool again”

Employees of Los Angeles International Airport and Uber and Lyft platforms demonstrate in support of the Unions for All movement in Los Angeles on October 2, 2019. FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP

Chronic. Always against the grain – or at the forefront, as you like – California can boast of a new particularism: unionism has become cool again. In 2019, the number of union members increased there, while it decreased in the rest of the country. According to the latest statistics from the Federal Labor Office, published on January 22, the Golden State has 2.72 million union members (16.5% of the workforce), 139,000 more than in 2018. nationally, on the other hand, the proportion continues to stagnate: 11.6% last year, against 11.7% in 2018.

Collective institution if any, unionism is not particularly popular in the United States, as we know. In 1979 unionized workers still represented 27% of the workforce. From the 1980s, the decline followed that of industries with a strong working-class tradition, such as metallurgy, but also the relocation of the automobile or aeronautics to the Southern States, traditionally hostile to contract negotiations: Carolina of the South, for example, which is the least unionized state in the country (only 2.7% of workers).

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To nip organizational impulses in the bud, employers are now using consultants union avoidancesays the Economic Policy Institute, a leftist think tank: “Trying to avoid” the creation of a union by convincing employees to vote against it. To form a cell, 30% of staff must request it and 50% approve it in a secret ballot election organized by the National Labor Relations Board. Argument of the consultants: the unions ransom the employees with high contributions and submit them to their dictates.

Right of inspection

In California, the mobilization is spectacular in technology, if only because we are starting from scratch. Even more than elsewhere, the tech lords seem to hate anything that resembles an attempt to collectively reflect on working conditions. But for the past two years, Silicon Valley has been agitated. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of protests increased threefold, according to the Collective Actions in Tech database.

On the “white collar” side, the valley is the scene of a wave of walkouts (“Work stoppages”) and petitions on political, social or environmental issues. The engineers are demanding control over the use of their work. A conscience clause for code writers, so to speak. An unprecedented claim.

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