Philly Workers Organizing During COVID-19

This is a guest post by Madison Nardy

Growing up as a student in the Philadelphia public school system, no matter what grade I was in, our teachers would present lectures about the Philadelphia Yellow Fever Epidemic. We would go on field trips to learn about our nation’s history, but hearing about this epidemic terrified me as a child. I remember daydreaming in class, worried that something like this would happen again. Fast forward to today, my childhood daydreams have become my reality. As a child, what I failed to daydream about, is how a global outbreak of such a deadly disease would hurt our most vulnerable people, the working and poor class.  

I began the fight towards economic justice in 2016, while I was approached by a worker organizer at my previous job at Target, where I experienced a reduction in my hours while my manager simultaneously hired new employees, closing one night and opening the very next morning, and forced to stay late or come in early at the very last minute. Working in these conditions was very stressful on myself, my family, and even more stressful now during a pandemic.

Workers all across the nation work in stressful conditions like I did, but since the beginning of the pandemic, these conditions spiraled out of control. Somehow our nation divided “low-wage” workers into two categories, nonessential and essential workers. Regardless of which category someone falls into, everyone is struggling. Workers at nonessential businesses all across the nation, have been furloughed, laid-off, or even fired. Luckily for me, my nonessential business furloughed all of its employees company wide. We were able to collect unemployment, which is not the case for all workers.

 Domestic workers and people who work for cash make up a large portion of our nation’s workforce, and do not qualify for unemployment. Since families are beginning to work from home, they are no longer in need for domestic workers, like house cleaners and nannies. Domestic workers across the city and the nation are out of work and unable to receive unemployment benefits. Our highest priority is to keep our nation healthy, and to provide them with resources to protect their health, feed their families, and keep a roof over their head. 

Essential workers are most at risk for testing positive for Covid-19, and they are the first people we need to protect. Essential workers like grocery store clerks, mass transit workers, and mail carriers, come in contact with hundreds or thousands of customers a day. If we don’t protect them, the pandemic will only get worse. The Philadelphia Paid Sick Leave law provides workers with one hour of paid sick time for every forty hours worked, that gives a maximum of five days per year. This is not enough paid sick time during a pandemic. The recovery time for mild Covid-19 cases is two weeks, and workers need two weeks of paid sick time, and ensured their jobs will be protected once coming back from self- isolation.

The Coalition to Respect Every Worker organized a virtual town hall on March 26th, with two demands to tell City Council. Create an emergency fund for workers who are unable to receive unemployment like domestic workers, and people who work for cash. And to also expand the Paid Sick Leave law from five days to two weeks for all Philadelphia workers. I was in attendance along with 400 other workers, community members, ten City Council members, and supporters. Our turnout goal was 200 people, I was shocked when I logged into zoom and saw 400 other people fighting along with me. It felt powerful to see people all throughout the city support our demands, and the support of City Council. 

Workers like María del Carmen Díaz, who is a Domestic worker, lost all of her work due to the coronavirus shut down. Diaz expressed to the four-hundred in attendance, how important it is for our city to step up and protect those who don’t qualify for unemployment. Several more workers shared their stories about how their essential businesses are not taking any, or as many safety precautions as they should, putting their workers, and customers’ lives at risk. We need city council to expand paid sick leave so workers who test positive for coronavirus can self- isolate, and for workers who want to protect their health, to end the spread of Covid-19. While the City did expand its paid sick leave law to cover public health emergencies, in the first days of the shutdowns, the leave law only provides 5 days of paid time off to workers–far less than the amount many of us need. And many workers were left out of that bill initially, including gig workers, domestic workers, and those workers represented by unions. 

After workers shared their stories, City Council shared their thoughts. Freshman City Council Member, Kenrdra Brooks shared her story of being a domestic worker before running for office, and expressed how important it is to protect domestic workers who do not qualify for unemployment. Helen Gym reminded us of our previous long fights and victories, like Fair Work Week and The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Our two demands will be a hard fight, but it cannot be a long one. Once these legislations pass, Mark Squilla stressed the importance of labor law enforcement. 

With so much support from City Council members, two weeks later, we see no move for expanding paid sick leave legislation. Legislation of all kinds are being stalled due to the current circumstances of Covid-19, but workers like myself need legislation now more than ever. While I was daydreaming as a little girl, I never would’ve seen myself in the position I’m in now. A struggling college student, on unemployment, fighting for economic justice. I think back to how big of an imagination I had, and an even bigger one now. My adult day dreams include a world where our people are not suffering and we live in peace, and it only forces me to fight harder. Expanding Paid Sick Leave to two weeks, and creating an emergency workers fund is a first huge step our city can take to help our suffering people. 

Madison Nardy is a member of One Pennsylvania and a worker leader of the Philly Worker Power Organizing Project. Madison studies political science at Temple University. She worked at The Philadelphia International Airport before being furloughed due to COVID-19.

organizing to fight sexual harassment

Earlier this month, I attended the convening launch of National COSH’s new Sexual Harassment Action Network, and heard countless stories of women fighting sexual harassment in a variety of industries. It’s good to see that this issue is finally getting the attention it deserves from the national labor movement, and equally good to see a combination of worker center leaders, legal advocates, and union staff joining together to talk about how to fight the kind of harassment that can make workplaces unwelcoming for those who identify as women or non-binary.

Fighting sexual harassment hasn’t always been a top priority for the entire labor movement. Too many women have been told to grin & bear it, for too long. Too many unions have felt that their legal duty, in cases of member-on-member sexual harassment, has been to defend the harasser not the victim. While unions do have a responsibility to make sure that every member’s due process rights are protected, it is not incumbent on the union to defend from appropriate discipline a member who did something wrong.

Presenters at the convening introduced the concept of victim-centered reporting, and talked about the need to press employers to make sure that their workers were safe. SEIU Justice for Janitors members discussed their fight to pass AB 1978, which puts requirements on cleaning companies to do training to prevent sexual harassment & assault, and showed this moving video about their fast, aimed at pressuring Governor Jerry Brown to sign that bill.

Unite HERE also showcased their work to bargain protections for housekeepers, who are often working alone in rooms with men who are strangers, into all their hotel contracts around the country, as well as to protect servers from sexual harassment at the hands of patrons.

COSH is asking folks who are supportive to take the “Our Turn” Pledge, and to commit to changing the power dynamics that allow harassment to thrive.

why expanding the map matters (Pt. 2)

There’s a popular trope in electoral organizing that involves a young field organizer, dropped into a turf which hasn’t seen a contested election in a while, who tries to bring the newest tactics in their ground game and is told by the county chair, “That’s not the way we do things around here*.” Spoiler: the young organizer does it her way despite the resistance of the entrenched party, and wins the election.

While we don’t have a federalized election process in this country, our elections, for organizing purposes, are still pretty much on a plug-and-play model. There are variations from one state to another–is there early voting? how hard or easy is it to vote by mail? is there same-day voter registration? But at the end of the day, there are  similar rules to follow from one place to the next. Both sides are competing for a fixed endpoint. Pro-worker electoral organizers may not get to set the rules of the election in one place or another, but we do know what they are–as government practices go, the rules for elections are transparent. As a result (while not advised), it is possible to win elections by dropping organizers into a place they don’t know well.

We get into problems, though, when we think we can win policy or worker organizing victories with this kind of plug-and-play thinking–especially when the reliance on plug-and-play means we don’t invest in places where sustaining work is harder. Organizing for policy victories–or organizing to build community support for workers who are taking actions to build power at work that could risk their jobs–both require the kinds of relationship building that plug-and-play organizing doesn’t prioritize.

Particularly when it comes to organizing in support of policy, it is imperative that local organizers understand the mechanics of how their government works–and the rules for how to affect legislation at the city or state level are rarely as clear as those that govern how elections are run. We have made a collective decision that, as a democracy, the state has to at least give the appearance that outsiders can win elections. We have not come to a similar collective conclusion about making the legislative process transparent.

In the last post, I talked about the need to invest in organizing ecosystems, not just individual organizations. As we think about what comes next, in the evolution of the labor movement and worker organizing, it is unlikely that we will see the exact replication on a wide scale of the functions that local unions and their internationals play in the movement. Let’s think about what a 501c5-style labor union can do, in addition to both representing current members and organizing new ones. Unions can make endorsements and spend money on electoral organizing within their membership base; can have a legal department that focuses on electoral law and legislative expertise, as well as labor and/or immigration law; can invest in a legislative director or team that is embedded in policy & legislative work focused at the state or city level; can have organizers that are responsible for building relationships with faith leaders and other community organizations with similar goals; and can have a communications department that is focused both on producing internal content for members and on producing issue-based content that targets the general public. Some unions also have affiliated PACs that can raise hard money from their members, which can be used to influence the general public in elections or can be contributed to candidates running for office. There are, to  my knowledge, no other kinds of organizations in our movement that have this kind of flexibility in combining organizing work with electoral & legislative advocacy–this is the kind of ecosystem, however, that we need to be thinking about, if we want to build deep support for organizations that want to win for workers.

What if every national funder, network or organization, when making their plans for expanding investment into worker organizing in a particular city or state asked themselves the following questions:

  • Does the ecosystem in this place provide legal support, that will both support individual workers in fights on the job and also support a broader strategy for changing the landscape through policy change or litigation?
  • Does the worker organization have a civic engagement strategy to build the habit of voting among its members, or a partnership with a local group that will help with that?
  • What partners in the region will be helping to drum up community support for this effort? If the organization plans to do this itself, is it adequately resourced to build relationships, or is this an add-on for an already-stressed worker organizer?
  • How will the word get out? Does the area have a local group that is focused on building relationships with the media and developing messages that resonate with the public?
  • Who is tasked with building relationships with not just elected officials, but their staff? Is this a part of the work that will be internal to the organization, or is there an outside consultant that can be hired, who knows how the target legislative body functions?

I’m not, of course, suggesting that any one organization is going to play all of these functions–but all of them are required, if we want to win. We need to do a better job of figuring out the support that worker organizations need, and providing it holistically, rather than opportunistically.

 

 

*if you’re in the mood for lots of cynical takes on the inside game of campaigns and party politics, I can’t recommend CampaignSick highly enough.

a not-entirely-scientific look at our movement in space (Pt. 1)

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As regular readers know, I recently rolled out a project to build a database of economic justice organizations in the US. It’s one of the things I’ve been curious about for a while–how good a job are we doing at building permanent, long-lasting infrastructure, in the face of increased attacks on traditional unions. As it turns out, we’ve got some real work to do to make sure that workers all over the US are able to build power for themselves and their families.

At this point, the database includes information on a total of 293 organizations, most of which are statewide or local groups–18 are national organizations or networks. When I set out to collect information on these groups, I built a list of organizations that are affiliated with national networks–organizations like the Center for Popular Democracy, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Jobs with Justice, PICO, etc. There are a couple of reasons for that, but the most important one is that, in my experience, it’s much more likely for local base-building groups to be able to raise funding from national foundations if they are connected to a national network that helps to validate and broadcast their work outside their own city or region. I also think that local groups in a national network benefit from the resources of the national network–things like research departments that can provide corporate profiles, intensive legal work, and innovative policy campaigns can be hard for local organizations to sustain (though there are obviously exceptions). National networks can provide an important role of convening a set of local groups that are working on a similar issue and helping them create a fundraising strategy, as well as provide some share resources like communications, that make executing that strategy easier.

What I found, as you can see in the map above (as well as the chart below the directory itself) is that the broader economic justice movement has been just as challenged to fund sustained organizing in the South and parts of the Midwest as the traditional labor movement has. And I think that’s a problem, because what it demonstrates to me is that, as the country’s population has shifted into the Sunbelt, we haven’t created organizing opportunities that give workers there hope that progressive employment policy will someday come.

I was somewhat shocked to see, for example, that the City of Oakland, CA has more of these economic justice organizations (8) than the entire state of Florida (7). Or that America’s smallest state, Rhode Island, has as many groups fighting for better work as does the entire state of Alabama (2).

I’m not trying to take anything away from folks who are doing this organizing in Oakland or Providence–in fact, I’m sure they could use more resources and support too. But we’ve got to do better about adding resources to groups that are working in severely underfunded places, if we want to ever be able to win federal legislation that creates an even playing field for all workers in the arena of wages, or paid time off, or racial justice at work, or any of the many things we fight for daily.

And it clearly isn’t the fault of those organizers running national networks, who are rarely able to seed wholly-new organizing efforts in places that don’t already host it. The start up costs of creating a new organization in a new place will run hundreds of thousands of dollars per year–and the work isn’t going to pay off in victories in the first year. It isn’t easy to raise money to fund solid, consistent organizing work for the five years or more it can take to build a base of support and begin racking up organizing or legislative wins–and that can take even more time in places with unfriendly legislatures with few elected allies to champion work. Some of the national networks are connecting groups that do base-building or direct worker organizing (CPD, JwJ, NDWA, NDLON, ROC, etc.), while others are connecting groups that provide legal support or help advocate for policy changes (PICO, Gamaliel, IWJ, etc.). In the places where our movement has had the most success winning local and statewide victories, you can see a rich ecosystem of groups that help support each others’ campaigns. We should be figuring out how to expand the map with those rich ecosystems, not contract in the few places we’re already winning to send resources elsewhere.

I’ll be writing another post next week with some of my thoughts about what we can do to change this map–but I’m curious about yours, too. If you have thoughts that you want to share on this issue, leave them in the comments or shoot me an email at  kati (at) hacktheunion (dot) org. I’ll include them in next week’s post, too. And of course–I know there are a ton of amazing worker centers out there that aren’t necessarily connected to national networks, but are still doing needed and important work–so if you know of them, please add them to the directory (I’ll be working to do the same, myself).

*some notes on the map: I’m hoping to soon have a better one that you can dynamically click on, showing which actual organizations are represented here. The lack of clickability creates some representational problems on the map–for example, all of the organizations in GA (3) look right now like they’re in AL, and two TX groups look like they’re in Mexico. I did not display any of the 18 organizations listed as “national” in the database, which would have skewed the DC/NY numbers even more. In states where an organization has more than one office, I only used one of the cities to represent that entire organization.  This is also only the map of the mainland US–there are three groups in the directory that are located in HI & PR, which I couldn’t fit in this screenshot.

Lenderly: peer-to-peer lending within your union or worker center?

How our organizations can better help people navigate the financial ups and downs of work as it becomes more precarious is a hot topic within the economic justice world these days. When the majority of Americans don’t have $500 in savings, we know that it is very hard to deal with routine “emergencies”–like an ER visit, an unexpected car repair, or a broken hot water heater.

Most of us are familiar with peer-to-peer lending programs like Kiva, which allow entrepreneurs and individuals around the world to borrow small-ish amounts of money, to fund business expansion or home improvements, without going through established banks. Lenders are partially repaid on a regular basis, until the entire loan is paid off–which can help both solve an immediate financial need for the borrower, and also establish a credit history for the borrower.

A new platform, Lenderly, developed a tool to refine this kind of peer-to-peer lending within existing networks. The site originally launched with faith communities in the US, and are now expanding their back end to be available for unions or worker centers who want to help facilitate loans between their membership.

Potential borrowers set up a specific funding request for between $300 to $5,000, and can specify the purpose of the loan with options like “take a class” or “pay medical bills.” The site acts as a guarantor of the loan–and will run a credit check on borrowers before making the loan request “live.” Borrowers also get to determine the length of time they will need to pay back the loan, up to two years.

Lenderly runs both the back end administration, adding their functionality to an existing website. It also helps borrowers get the word out about their loan request, by publicizing it to other people within that organization’s community.

Crowd-funding alone won’t fix income inequality, of course–but it might make it more possible for people to survive until we can build a more fair society.

Interested? Head over to lenderly.co and hit the “contact us” button–and let them know you heard about it on HtU.

New website seeks to organize workers with electronic union cards

A newly-launched website, Unionize Me, hopes to enlist large numbers of low-wage workers in winning NLRB elections. Founded by lawyer Jason Zoladz, the site hopes to take advantage of the NLRB’s 2015 decision to allow workers to sign union authorization cards electronically.

Zoladz is hoping to shift the conversation in the US, to focus on the fact that low-wage workers (who have been striking in large numbers through the Fight for 15 campaign) need bargaining power with their specific companies.

“2 million Wal-Mart workers need a union,” Zoladz told me ( a fact that few readers of this site would dispute).

When we spoke, the site had only been live for 6 days, but Zoladz had already received a number of electronic signatures on authorization cards. At that point, no one worksite had met the 30% trigger for a union election. Zoladz does not intend to organize one stand-alone business at a time, however—he wants to wait until a reasonable majority of workers in one specific region have signed, so that workers will be able to take actions from a position of strength.

It remains to be seen whether a mostly-lawyer based strategy can flip the script on winning union elections—but I’ll be curious to see how this plays out, over time.

Designing 21st century platform unions–part 3

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what parallels—if any—exist between platforms and unions, and whether there are lessons that can be learned from platform design, that could benefit worker organizers who are looking for new models. This is the third in a series of three planned posts on the topic. In referring to companies as platforms, I am specifically talking about internet-based businesses that provide some kind of a marketplace for different kinds of users (called here in shorthand “buyers” and “sellers”—though of course, on some platforms a user can be both a buyer and a seller) to meet and exchange something of value (money for goods or services, ideas, advice, etc.). In this series, company platforms can refer to sites like eBay or Craigslist, as well as Mechanical Turk, Uber or Etsy. This series should not be read as an endorsement of any of the company platforms or unions mentioned. In thinking about best practices for community governance, I drew deeply on a panel discussion from this year’s CommonBound conference, between Nathan Schneider, Micki Metts, and Mario Liebrenz, as well as the book Swarmwise by Rick Falvinge.

Best practices for online communities

Building any community requires rules. Traditional unions have bylaws to govern member conduct and establish how decisions get made, and platform unions will need the same kinds of structure. Setting standards for online community conduct and ensuring that decisions made online are made democratically are problems that every movement needs to struggle with, and happily, there are some lessons we can learn from worker-cooperatives and other organizations that are further along in their online development.

Use technology that helps people build relationships & connect across distance

There’s a reason that Apple created FaceTime in an early version of the iPhone—seeing people when we talk to them is better than talking on the phone (and talking on the phone is better than having a text-only relationship, no matter what my children might tell you). The cost of setting up video conferencing has gone from exorbitant to practically free, at least for small groups. Jitsi Meet (https://meet.jit.si/) is an open-source, low-bandwidth encrypted system that allows unlimited people to participate in video conferences, right from a browser. Google Hangout requires a computer or smart phone with a camera and mic (as well as a free Google Plus account)—and has a mode that allows recording for later playback (Hangouts on Air). Hangout is only good for groups of up to 10—but having 2-3 people cluster at the same screen can also help add more folks to the conversation. If you’re still mostly having regular meetings of a geographically distributed group over conference calls, you are missing out on the chance to connect in a deeper way.

National or global assemblies should set overarching values for the organization

A platform union that is both representing workers in Fairbanks, Alaska and Kissimmee, Florida needs to ensure that the overall values of the organization are widely accepted. Bringing people together in one location is expensive and can be exclusionary—so make sure that your national gatherings incorporate an element for online voting and, if possible, live-streaming of decision-making meetings.

Decision-making is best left to the group that is most affected by the decision

Organizing a national dialogue any time one group wants to start working on a piece of city-wide legislation is impractical. Local organizing committees should be empowered to make decisions about local work—while ensuring that their work conforms to the national or international values set above. Some online organizing groups have developed a rule of three that says that any idea that three activists agree is a good one can be moved forward—as long as those three people are willing to take on the responsibility for doing the work.

Regular meetings still matter, even if they’re not in person

For groups at the local level, it’s still important to make sure that they are meeting regularly. It’s equally important to make sure that they have something to meet **about**. If you are able to have in-person meetings, think about centering the meeting in both community-building (bring food!) and some kind of discussion that everyone—even non-experts—can participate in. Some groups will use their regular monthly meetings to help brainstorm around a problem that an individual or sub-group are having, or to think about their larger strategy and how to achieve goals.

Customizing specific technology can allow your overall resources to grow

Fair Coop, a global internet-based cooperative that has created a marketplace for selling products online, has created a crypto-currency of their own, called Faircoin. Every member gets an account with a wallet, and they spend a significant amount of time teaching their members how to use it. As the currency grows in value, the coop uses it to invest in cooperative development, including funds to help refugees or other historically disadvantaged groups to start coops of their own.

Make sure to tell your stories—especially about internal successes

Organizing national discussions or local ones that are mostly mediated online is challenging, and new to most of us. Make sure that you are using your platform not just to talk about your external successes (we won portable benefits!) but also about your internal ones (we had an important discussion using only the internet!). Ask people to tell a story about how being in this specific community has changed their life, or something new that they’ve learned from being a part of the group. It’s important to reinforce that being a part of an online decision-making process can be fun, or informative, or helpful.

Designing 21st century platform unions—part 2

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what parallels—if any—exist between platforms and unions, and whether there are lessons that can be learned from platform design, that could benefit worker organizers who are looking for new models. This is the third in a series of three planned posts on the topic. In referring to companies as platforms, I am specifically talking about internet-based businesses that provide some kind of a marketplace for different kinds of users (called here in shorthand “buyers” and “sellers”—though of course, on some platforms a user can be both a buyer and a seller) to meet and exchange something of value (money for goods or services, ideas, advice, etc.). In this series, company platforms can refer to sites like eBay or Craigslist, as well as Mechanical Turk, Uber or Etsy. This series should not be read as an endorsement of any of the company platforms or unions mentioned. For the analysis of platforms, I am indebted to the authors of _Platform Revolutions_, and to MIT’s Sloan School for their online course of the same name, as well as Simone Cicero’s work, including this recent article.

What can we learn from platforms?

As we move into thinking about how to design platform unions in ways that incorporate best practices from the world of for-profit platforms, it is critical to realize that, just like Airbnb doesn’t fulfill all the functions of a hotel—we shouldn’t be focused on replicating the entirety of the 20th century labor union online. There are many functions that a 21st century platform union could perform—some of which will be things that were traditional benefits of unionization. But if we’re building an organization that is not centered around one physical workplace, we will need to find a different center of activity for our organizing work.

Remember metcalfe’s law, when designing the business model

Metcalfe’s Law says that the value of a platform rises as more people use the platform. The high “price” of entry creates major challenges for 20th century unions who are seeking to grow to scale. The advantage of the platform union is that it can experiment with business models to see which one works best. While some traditional unions have experimented with associate member models and other methods of getting non-union workers to see themselves in the union, their heavy dependence on their current, dues-based business model makes scalability difficult. If we want platform unions to grow into a high-value proposition for members, it must be possible for lots of people to join.

Some examples of business models that a platform union might adopt are:

    Platform takes a transaction cut from both parties

In essence, 20th century unions do this through the process of dues collection. The fundamental value proposition of a union has been—joining the union will get you a raise. Most unions bend over backwards to make sure that the dues that they collect from members are offset by raises, especially for newly-organized units. A platform union that adopts this model will need to make sure that the value that it is providing to workers is worth more than what they might command as solo actors, either through increases in wage rates, or some kind of benefits.

    Employers pay for access to specific kinds of workers

What the “specific” is will likely be different in different industries. While in some customer-facing businesses, having a large population of bilingual workers is important and hard to find, in others it is irrelevant. Employers who are struggling to fill a void in their workforce will appreciate an organization that helps provide stability in the face of that void. A deep understanding of the industry that workers exist in will be paramount to making this model work. A platform union that charges for access to specific workers will probably need to create some kind of certification, to affirm worker capability.

    Members pay for access to specific content or training.

Workers may, in certain industries, benefit from skills upgrades or information, and some professions require continuing education in order to be certified to practice. A platform union could create a business model that brings in members through an education program, and then organizes them to demand power later.

    Members pay for access to tools.

In the new world of work, the tools we need to perform are not always provided by employers. Can we envision a world in which a platform union of Uber drivers collectively own a car (a practice which is, of course, already in effect in both the traditional and coop taxi industries)? Or where a platform union of Task Rabbits share ownership of a set of tools?

    Monetizing user data.

Platforms will have access to user data, which in some instances, will have value to third parties (for example—a labor lawyer might pay for access to a list of workers who have suffered wage theft, or workplace injuries). Obviously, members will need to decide what are appropriate situations in which user data can be sold, and what should remain proprietary to the platform.

    Pick one or two major functions, and perfect them

Most of what we consider to be the gold standard of unionization wasn’t built overnight. The future of the labor movement may look much more like the pre-Industrial era workers’ movements than it resembles the unions that were built in the 20th century. Platform unions may not be able to hold all of the functions that current labor unions do—although they may be able to create new ways of building power for members.

Some examples of functions that a platform union might provide are:

    Training and certification of workers.

Some kinds of craft unions (particularly those in the building trades) have historically made this the bread and butter of their organizing success—creating an apprentice/journey/master system allows unions to provide value to members over the course of a career.

    Provide a virtual hiring hall.

Coupled with a training function, this can be a particularly compelling organizing model. A hiring hall is basically a method of finding unused resources (in this case, both skilled labor and access to jobs) and putting them to work.

    Create a system of portable benefits that is specifically designed for those with multiple employers.

Some 20th century unions have done an expert job of aggregating their gig workers’ income streams into a way to buy affordable health care and retirement savings. SAG-AFTRA, for example, provides a way for actors who have multiple income sources (commercials, TV shows, movies, audiobooks, etc.) to be eligible for health insurance and a pension, even if their work from one gig might not be enough to qualify them for a pension.

    Reputation management

As more and more workers get rated for every job they do, issues around reputation management are coming to the forefront as a workers’ rights issue. A successful platform union could be focused on protecting workers’ reputations—both for groups (in the form of bargaining about algorithms) and for individuals who are removed from access to work.

    Data aggregation.

Platform unions will have the ability to perform both data-based and anecdotal analysis for their members. Coupled with reputation management, this could provide a powerful tool for helping redistribute power between the employers and the members.

    Reducing information asymmetry.

Some gig economy worker communities have built success by collecting information about the consumers of their apps/services, and sharing it with each other. No one wants to walk into a house, after being hired to do six loads of laundry, to find that there isn’t a washing machine, and the contracted time now needs to involve a trip to a laundromat—sharing information about customers makes it possible for members to reject jobs from chronic abusers of gig workers. Turkopticon gives Turkers the ability to see which Requesters have previously rejected completed work without paying for it—which could lead a Turker to avoid working for them in the future.

    Brand damage/customer awareness.

20th century unions have certainly engaged in brand damage campaigns—primarily through work stoppages and in-person actions. 21st century platform unions will have the ability to make their brand damage campaigns go viral in ways that won’t work, when you’ve just got an inflatable rat.

Other things to think about

    Price to drive adoption.

For all of these models to succeed, a platform union needs scale. Thinking about the pricing structure must include a theory of how the price point will encourage adoption at a level that will make success more likely.

    Stoke the fires of activity.

If an important part of the platform union is community discussion where users exchange tips or , then make sure that you and others are participating by posting and responding to other users’ comments. No one wants to keep coming back to a platform where they are the only poster.

    Free can’t be both sides of the coin.

If you’re giving something away to one pool of users, you need a network effect that is so strong it pulls in a different pool of users, who will pay enough to overcome the cost of the subsidy.

The third post in this series, which will be up next week, will propose some best practices around governance, for platform unions. Have thoughts about this post? Please leave a comment.