CODE-CWA Newsletter: February 3
“Unions are important in every industry. It’s the workers on the ground level that are responsible for a company functioning. It’s humane for us to have a seat at the table and determine what conditions, what compensation, what benefits we have,” said shipper generalist Jennifer Bonham and member of TCGunion-CWA
Across the tech industry, employers have resorted to mass layoffs. IBM is looking to fire 4,000 employees, Microsoft said it would fire 10,000, Google is looking at 12,000 layoffs, and Amazon’s Chief Executive said there would be an impending layoff of 18,000 workers. Since the start of 2022 around 222,000 jobs have been cut. Whilst companies claim the layoffs are because of the current economic landscape, the reality is that this is a response against worker organizing. Tech companies and their execs want their employees to feel afraid and uncertain about the future. People have been locked out of email accounts, Google employees have had their keycards suddenly deactivated without warning, and workers have not even been allowed to say goodbye to coworkers they have known for years. It is all a tactic to limit worker power. However, workers are not going down without a fight.
This week, Alphabet Workers Union - CWA held multiple protests and rallies across the country to call attention to labor conditions for subcontracted workers and support thousands of co-workers who were recently laid off. And for the first time ever, several teams of subcontracted YouTube workers went on strike, making it the first official strike by Google workers. People across the tech, digital and game industry are fed up and have been organizing to provide support for each other and hold greedy employers accountable where they can during this uncertain time. Toxic workplace culture, terrible pay, grueling hours, and mass layoffs have put workers in a dark space, but there is a solution to the madness. If you and your colleagues have been impacted and need help navigating the precarious nature of the tech industry, we’re here to help. It’s never too late to organize. Reach out!
On Sunday, February 5 join us for an organizer training at 1 PM ET/ 10 AM PT where we talk about union basics, the CWA organizing models, and some key ways to connect with co-workers through organizing. And on Sunday February 12 at 1 PM ET/ 10 AM PT join us for a building the committee training where we talk about how to build a strong organizing committee. Check the CODE-CWA organizer training program for upcoming classes!
Workers at eBay-owned Trading Card Marketplace TCGplayer Want to Unionize
A supermajority of workers at TCGPlayer’s authentication center announced that they are forming the TCG Union/CWA and have filed for a union representation election with the National Labor Relations Board. TCGPlayer is the number one online marketplace for collectible trading cards and was acquired by eBay in November 2022. “The eBay acquisition was a fire under a lot of people. It encouraged a lot of people to start thinking about unionization. The last union efforts didn’t succeed, but people have still been focused on creating a better workplace for everyone. I love — and I know a lot of my coworkers love — the place we work. And with a lot of unknowns, we want to ensure that what makes it a good place to work continues to stay that way. With the union, we can get those conditions in writing and advocate for ourselves,” said inventory specialist Lindsey Gancasz. The workers are hoping for better pay, benefits that cannot be taken away, a say in how they are treated, and increased transparency. Read more on Polygon
Managers Are Already Trying to Bust eBay's First Union, Organizers Say
Rather than engage with their workers in good faith, TCGPlayer has once again chosen to take the low road. Two days after the union went public, CWA filed an unfair labor practice charge against the company for violating federal labor law by patrolling the floor of the authentication center and taking note of employees who have worn any clothes or insignia identifying them as supporters of TCGunion-CWA. “Instead of respecting TCG workers’ protected right to choose to join a union or not, management has chosen to directly violate their labor rights,” said CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens. “If TCGPlayer wants to live up to its core value of “community for all,” they must respect their workers’ rights and allow a free and fair election to happen without interference.” Read more on VICE and Tell TCGPlayer Leadership: Stop Union Busting!
YouTube Contract Workers Are Going on Strike
For the third action this week held by members of the Alphabet Workers Union in cities across the US, YouTube Music contract workers went on strike to protest a Return-To-Office policy they say is "threatening" their livelihoods. Currently, workers are being forced to return to office on February 6, 2023. Workers are paid around $19 an hour and thus, cannot afford the relocation, travel or childcare costs associated with in person work. A majority of workers were hired remotely and nearly a quarter of workers are not based in Texas. The upcoming return to office date threatens the livelihoods of workers who do not live in the Austin area. “Having the ability to be remote allows us, right at five o’clock, to jump into our other jobs that are necessary because we’re not paid enough,” says Katie Marschner, an organizer of the strike and member of Alphabet Workers Union-CWA. This is the first official strike held by Google Workers, as well as the first strike for AWU-CWA members. Read more on Vice and TIME
How ‘Crunch’ Time and Low Pay are Fueling a Union Drive Among Video Game Workers
“It almost starts to feel like ‘Groundhog Day’. It’s just so mentally challenging. You’re so tired that you just sleep and wake up to do it again the next day. It becomes a blur. ... You peek your head out from being in a tunnel and you’d come back to reality once the crunch was over,” said Andrés Vásquez, a quality assurance tester for id Software. Throughout the gaming industry, workers have had to face periods like these called crunch. Workers have slept at their desk, barely seen family, faced extreme stress, and burnt out. This, combined with discrimination, harassment, and low pay have led many to stand up and demand change. What started as a wave of organizing efforts five years ago, went from discord and private conversations, to lawsuits and public discussions across the industry. Some believe this turning point is a result of the #MeToo movement, where women decided to speak up about abuse and harassment throughout the games industry. Others say the transition from physical to digital games has made a big difference. Before, companies could hire temp workers to release a game and then drop them after release. Now with games being constantly updated, they have to retain those same employees, which have given workers the opportunity to organize together and demand more through a union. As Amanda Laven, an associate test analyst said, “while collective action without a union is very powerful, the only way to legally secure the benefits and rights that you want to have is with a union contract.” Read more on the LA Times
The Real Aim of Big Tech’s Layoffs: Bringing Workers to Heel
The big tech layoffs aren't about "economic realities"—Silicon Valley is moving to slash rising wages and bring an increasingly empowered workforce to heel. Since Covid, workers have become more outspoken, and salaries for tech employees have skyrocketed. At Amazon, workers made the company pledge to reduce carbon emissions and formed the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. At Google, workers pressured the company to drop a defense contract, and formed the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU-CWA). But companies are pushing back as workers organizing pose a threat to company execs and their bottom line. Employers are hoping to quash the wave of organizing efforts by tech workers by implementing mass layoffs. Instead of firing select workers, and having them feel angry at being retaliated against, by firing large groups, employers are able to make their workers feel afraid and uncertain.. “I think this really highlights the need for the people not just in the Microsoft ecosystem, but across the industry to organize. I think this was a wake-up call. There’s a wave coming. And there’s no stopping it,” said Skylar Hinnant, member of ZeniMax Workers United/CWA. Many feel that things will change despite employers’ best efforts. After layoffs at Google were announced, more than 1,800 people joined an online AWU-CWA meeting to figure out next steps. Workers from all over have been calling each other, providing counseling, and getting people answers. Read more on the LA Times
Unions and Video Games
The video game industry in 2021 was worth more than North American sports, music, and U.S. book publishing combined. Just like the movie industry, the video game industry has faced brutal working conditions with companies taking advantage of their employees’ passion for the work. This has resulted in practices like crunch: where workers spend between 60 to 100 hours a week working for months on end. Companies like Activision Blizzard say they are fair, and would not like employees to make “unfair sacrifices”, but the reality is very different. Employees have been hospitalized for being overworked, suffered harassment, and have been underpaid. “The impact so many games have had on me — I want to be part of giving that to someone else. Corporate leadership knows we’d rather be here testing a video game than another piece of software, so they can pay us way less,” explained Amanda Laven, a game tester at Activision Blizzard. This culture goes beyond Activision Blizzard, and is rampant across the industry, but things are changing. More employees nationwide are fighting to unionize than before— in 2022, it was almost 300,000 more. Some companies, like Microsoft, have embraced this drive with open arms and decided to remain neutral; other companies, like Activision Blizzard, have tried their best to stop the organizing efforts. It has not been easy, but some believe that this struggle is an inevitable part of the industry growing up, and one day the industry will be changed for good. Read more on the New York Times
Apple Executives Violated Worker Rights, Labor Officials Say
The National Labor Relations Board has determined Apple broke the law once again by violating workers rights. The ruling claims Apple broke the law in 2021 when they prohibited employees from exercising their rights to collective action, as well as hindering employees from discussing business information, terms of employment including wages, and posting impolite tweets. The complaint issued by the NLRB will be reviewed by administrative law judges. “My hope is that for the first time Apple is told by the government that this culture of secrecy is not OK. I also hope that this sends shockwaves through other corporations that even Apple can be held accountable,” said former employee Ashley Gjovik. Gjovik was fired by Apple in 2021 for disclosing confidential product information, even though her actions were legally protected. According to her, she was fired for speaking up about health hazards in the workplace. If Apple does not settle the matter, it will eventually be taken to federal court. Read more on Bloomberg
This Week in History
FEBRUARY 3 1941 – The Supreme Court upholds the Wages and Hours (later Fair Labor Standards) Act banning child labor and establishing the 40-hour workweek.
FEBRUARY 4 1913 – Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man launched the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and the birth of the civil rights movement, is born in Tuskegee, Ala.
Song of the Week
Well, I won't back down, no I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of Hell
But I won't back down
Gonna stand my ground, won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won't back down
Grindr United-CWA Files Unfair Labor Practice Charge Against Grindr’s Unlawful Severance Agreements & More