Podcasting studio Gimlet staff announces plans to unionize -- and why that's so rare in tech

On Tuesday, Buzzfeed reported that the staff of Gimlet Media (the podcast startup acquired by Spotify last month) is planning to unionize (open letter here). The 83-person staff of writers, producers, engineers, and hosts would join the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) -- other members include Vox, Vice, and HuffPost.

If successful, Gimlet employees would not only become the first prominent podcast creators to unionize, but also some of the first tech union members in general.

Disorganized disrupters

While unionizing is a common occurrence in the media world, unions are still rare in the tech industry (apart from a few notable examples like Silicon Valley security guards and cafeteria workers). 

Unions in the media world typically organize to fight for equitable pay, more comprehensive benefits, and improved pension plans. So far, the lavish benefits and perks provided by most tech companies have kept software developers off the picket line.

However, with tech employee social and political activism on the rise, that could be primed to change.

Turn off, stand up, walk out

Since last summer, there have been several large scale employee movements at tech giants including Microsoft and Google. 

In June, Microsoft employees protested the company’s contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, and again in February against the company’s contract with the U.S. Army.

In August, Google employees protested the company’s plans to create a censored search engine for China. In November, the Google Walkout for Real Change organized a 1,500 person worldwide walk out in protest of the company’s handling of sexual harassment cases.

A more perfect union

Thus far, tech employee organization has been generally limited to one-off protests and workers are starting to see the limitations -- of the five demands in the November Google walk out, only one was achieved (an end to forced arbitration). 

Amazon and Tesla employees have attempted to organize in the past but have failed to unionize yet -- employers definitely aren't making it easy for them. 

If Gimlet chooses to recognize employee efforts to unionize, it could set a powerful precedent that there is a place for unions in tech. 
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