“My Union Work Made My Life Better”
In 2021, we saw an unprecedented surge in new organizing by young workers in tech companies such as Alphabet/Google, Mapbox, Vodeo, and Catalist to name just a few. I’ve been talking with young activists over the past few months because I’m eager to hear their stories and learn more about what’s happening on the new frontiers of labor organizing.
Before Christmas, I was lucky to meet Gabrielle Weiss over Zoom. At the time, Gabby was a 28-year-old product marketer at EveryAction, a progressive company that serves nonprofits. The workers at EveryAction began organizing their union with CWA in 2019. Last September, the company voluntarily recognized the EveryAction Workers Union after nearly 70% of the workers signed cards showing their support for the union. Members of the EveryAction Workers Union are members of CWA Local 1400 in Boston, Local 13000 in Philadelphia, or Local 2336 in Washington, D.C., depending on their work locations. They are currently bargaining their first contract.
Gabby is a long-time progressive herself. She told me her family was pretty political, but her real awakening came about 10 years ago.
“I started to come into my own in college,” she said. “I felt I could become a true activist and advocate for the issues I cared about. I wanted to make my voice heard.”
I asked Gabby to tell me a little about her history in the labor movement.
“I was a member of the United Auto Workers for about three years in my previous job at a nonprofit. . . . It was cool to be immersed in the union world right out of college, just as I was finding my way in the world,” said Gabby. “I knew how lucky I was to have a union job with all the protections and opportunities that came with it. Right after I started, I got to watch the final stages of contract bargaining. By the time I left, it was time for a new contract, so I got to participate in the start of bargaining. It was a good experience, and that’s why I felt so strongly about making sure we had a union at EveryAction.”
I was intrigued about the whole process of establishing a union at a company from scratch, so I asked Gabby to share the details of her experience. She explained that the person she worked with most closely was the leader of the effort to organize at EveryAction, and he was fearless.
“He sat directly across from EveryAction’s president and said that it was an embarrassment for the company to claim it was progressive without creating a union-friendly environment. It was mind-blowing that he could sit there and tell the boss he had to do better. In the spring and summer of 2019, we all started having serious conversations about a union at informal weekly meetings. We did research into which unions we wanted to talk to. Soon we got plugged into CWA’s CODE campaign and formed our official organizing committee. But then COVID happened, some of our people left and got other jobs, we weren’t able to meet in person, and we put things on hold for a while.”
The Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA) is a network of worker-organizers and their staff working every single day to build the voice and power necessary to ensure the future of the tech, game, and digital industries in the United States and Canada. CODE-CWA is a project of the Communications Workers of America, which represents hundreds of thousands of workers throughout tech, media, telecom, and other industries who stand together to fight for justice on the job and in our communities.
Gabby started out as an organizer and then became chair of her union’s mobilizing committee. As an organizer, she was able to tell people, “I’ve been in the union before. I can tell you the difference between working in a union workplace and a nonunion workplace, and believe me you want to be in a union workplace.”
She loved organizing because it brought new personal connections. “In the process of organizing, I was able to talk to coworkers I don’t normally talk to in my everyday work. It led to some cool relationships with people in my office. My union work made my life better because now I actually have more friends that I can talk to and go to for support.”
Gabby Weiss, former product marketer at EveryAction
I wondered what the top priorities were for the EveryAction workers as they began to talk about organizing.
“One big priority was diversity and equality, making sure that we’re hiring and supporting and promoting diverse candidates across the organization. Plus all the standard issues like wages, sick days, and paid time off. We wanted a voice in changes as the company grew.”
“And we were lucky. When we went public, the reaction from management was positive. They seemed willing to live by their progressive motto. They agreed voluntarily to recognize the union, and right now we are looking forward to sitting down with management at the bargaining table.”
Gabby had such a positive experience compared to what we often hear about on the news when workers are organizing. I had to ask her at the end of our talk if she had any advice for other activists wading into organizing for the first time, especially those who feel it’s going to be scary or impossible to make a change.
“I’d tell them they have nothing to lose,” said Gabby. “You have to advocate for yourself anyway, asking your boss for a raise or better conditions. Why not do that with your coworkers? Why not combine your strengths? Just starting the process, just talking with people will make you feel empowered.”
P.S. At the end of 2021, like a lot of tech workers, Gabby changed jobs and moved to a new company. Our interview took place a few months before that move.
About the Author: Carissa Hahn is an Executive Vice-President for CWA Local 37083 in Greater-Seattle, WA. She also coordinates the Legislative and Political program in Washington State and is the District 7 Lead Activist for CWA NextGeneration.