How (and Why) Unions Are Organizing STEM Industry Companies

Union Organizing STEM

If ever there was an industry ripe for unionization, it’s STEM. It’s an industry that has become notable for its lack of workforce diversity and unwelcoming organizational cultures. Silicon Valley remains the “poster child” of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) industry, and despite public attention and demands for increased diversity, businesses like Facebook and Google continue to report dismal diversity numbers. It’s a problem across the STEM industry, attracting the attention of unions looking for companies with dissatisfied workforces.

Spotlight on the STEM Industry

In 2014, the spotlight was turned on the STEM industry when the Reverend Jesse Jackson brought the lack of diversity to the public’s attention. Citing patterns of exclusion, he asked the big tech companies to publicly disclose their hiring and diversity data, and the U.S. EEOC to examine employment contracts. At the time, Rev. Jackson also said that automakers have done a better job of creating opportunities for diverse talent because they’ve been pressured by unions.

Not much has changed in three years. The tech industry diversity numbers remain very low for Latinos, African-Americans and multi-ethnicity persons, and companies also have trouble retaining women and people of color. The industry claim that there aren’t enough qualified diverse people in the U.S. to hire hasn’t been accepted. The reality, say analysts, is that tech companies aren’t recruiting in the right places, such as at the engineering programs of Historically Black Universities and Colleges (HBCUs), and are unable to retain diverse workers because of organizational cultures that minimize the value of women and minority employees.

The tech industry’s diversity challenge has implications for your business. One is that unions are presenting themselves as the solution to biased hiring practices and as a catalyst for changing organizational cultures that exclude women and minorities. As unions pursue the unionization of professionals as a way to rebuild their declining membership, they’re focusing on broader issues than compensation and benefits. Some people analyzing the tech industry’s difficulties in the diversity arena believe the conversation should be about social change, focusing on things like economic inequality, racism and sexism, access to education, and social insularity. Each talking point represents a potential opportunity for unionization.

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Quietly Forming a Union

The veterinary technical professionals recently formed the National Veterinary Professionals Union (NVPU) out of discontent with compensation, benefits and working conditions. The union’s stated goals include reducing turnover through improved working conditions and developing a harassment-free workplace.

Unionization started quietly, giving you insights into the strategies that dissatisfied employees use today. Veterinary technician Morgan VanFleet created a private Facebook page in March 2017 in response to a proposed merger of two of the largest veterinary hospital companies in the U.S. and Canada. She wanted veterinary technicians to band together so they had a voice at the table. With no budget and a reliance on word of mouth, over 2,000 people had joined by July. A 20-member steering committee was then formed.

The NVPU is targeting veterinary technicians, associate veterinarians, assistants and unlicensed assistive personnel to increase membership. The new union hopes to eventually join the Service Employees International Union. This model of union formation can be used by any employee in your business, which is why it’s so important to have an effective employee communication system, an engaged workforce, a positive workplace culture and good employee relations with management.

Engaging ALL Employees

Most companies today hire STEM workers because technology is pervasive across industries. Even small businesses rely on technical workers to ensure everything runs smoothly. You need to evaluate your hiring practices, organizational biases and engagement practices in order to stay union proof. It’s not just about employee engagement. It’s about your leaders being fully engaging of a diverse talent pool. Your managers should recognize that engagement practices can be as biased as hiring practices, giving dissatisfied employees a reason to talk to union representatives.

About the author

Walter Orechwa

Walter is Projections’ CEO and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.