Founder's Letter

Hi!

First of all, I’m honored that you’re considering or actively working with Unit to help your peers organize your workplace and run your own union. Regardless of what industry you’re in, you are doing something that fundamentally reshapes your company and society-at-large into a more worker-friendly place.

Unit is a new unionizing framework to support worker-organizers, so naturally we get a lot of questions about how it works, who runs it, its funding, its structure, the relationship we have with unions we support, and more.

This letter addresses some of the most commonly asked questions we get and will introduce you to some of our team. We are and we will continue to be in conversation and collaboration with workers, organizers, and established unions to define exactly how Unit can best support workers. We are building a community of worker organizers, and we would love you to become a part of it.

This is a living document, so if you have any questions that aren’t answered here or you think should be part of the discussion, reach out to team@unitworkers.com. We check it!

A union is a group of people working together to change their conditions at work. Just by working together, you've already started forming your union. Forming a union can be one of the most powerful things that people do at work, but that doesn't mean it's not scary and difficult. We're here to support you and your coworkers in becoming a strong, legally recognized union.

Unionizing isn’t a silver bullet but it’s a crucial tool in shifting the power dynamics in your workplace. You team up with your coworkers, build trust, and collaborate on actions to improve your workplace. You vote democratically to ensure the group is in agreement moving forward. You plan and take actions that convince the people in charge to give you what you want. You have some powerful tools at your disposal - notably your labor, the law, and your community. Once the changes you want are made, you remain vigilant against workplace backsliding and hold your management accountable.

To learn more about unions in general, head to guide.unitworkers.com where we’ve compiled a ton of articles made for worker-organizers new to unionizing.

Why Ask for Advice?

You have power and leverage when you work together. Building relationships with your coworkers is crucial to winning your unionizing campaign. So why would you ask anyone for help unionizing?

It can be difficult to unionize and win legal recognition, even if a majority of people support unionizing. Why?
  • Union law is outdated - there are decades of cases and additional acts since the original NLRA was passed, and making sense of it all is not easy.
  • Corporations use anti-union firms to create legal, psychological, and economical barriers to unionizing within their organization.
  • Wealthy anti-union individuals contribute tons of funds to organizations which create anti-union propaganda and engage in anti-union lobbying.
  • Organizing your coworkers is a skill. It can be self-taught, but we don’t learn this stuff in school, unfortunately.
As a result, only 6.1% of the US private sector is unionized, even though over 68% of people in the US support unionization. Out of newly certified unions, nearly 0 are organized without any outside help. This is very hard to do alone.

Help is out there! Tactics for unionizing 21st century workplaces, combined with core historical tactics, are being spread across the internet. Examples of unionized workplaces are easier to engage with due to social media. Videoconference-based union meetings are becoming commonplace. Organized labor has won major victories for working people, and there are many national unions that may support your workplace union. With good advice and tools, you’ll be able to kickstart your campaign quickly, utilize expert support when mistakes happen, and increase your chances of making the change you want.

Independent Unions

For some workplaces there may not be a national union able to take on your campaign, so unionizing independently is the only option. For other workplaces, there may be a strong desire from coworkers to unionize independently. COVID has spurred an increased interest in unionizing during a surge of unionizing interest already higher than any other time in recent history. The private unionization rate is 6.1% and we aim to increase that by 2% over the next decade. Of that, independent unions form a tiny fraction of the total number of unions certified by the NLRB each year, in large part due to how difficult they are to create for a workplace new to unions and organizing. We’re excited to be experimenting with tools to put directly into workers’ hands and join the labor movement in this effort to grow union membership in the years to come.

With an independent union, you and your coworkers democratically run your union and make decisions regarding union governance, negotiation priorities, and how to allocate dues at a workplace level.

The choice to be an independent union is never set in stone. Any independent union can merge into a national union, as long as both support it. This leaves independent unions in a flexible position to research the best national union for them to affiliate with after achieving majority support, as opposed to the status quo, where this decision is typically made before most people in the workplace know about the unionizing effort.

We also think it’s important to recognize that forming an independent union may not be right for everyone who signs up for Unit. As previously stated, our goal is to increase unionization in the U.S. in conversation with the broader labor movement. We will always connect you with the resources that we believe best help your path to unionizing, whether it be delivered through our team or another labor organization.

After independently achieving union recognition, you will need to find other professionals such as banking, accounting, and legal advice to help you put together all the tools and services you need to run your union. You need to ensure these professionals work well together with each other and with your coworkers. Many of these professionals require payment upfront, before most of your coworkers are willing to pay dues. Advice can make this much easier on you and your coworkers. Unit helps you manage all of the operations of your new independent union, so you and your coworkers can focus on your relationships and using your combined power to achieve better working conditions.

Unit aims to make forming an independent union much simpler, providing support to you and your coworkers through this process. We think about this support as three pillars that together form the unionizing platform we aspire to create: accessible, worker-driven, and powerful.

Accessible

We hear similar stories with many workers that sign up for Unit. “We want to unionize but don’t have the resources,” “we weren’t taught unionizing in school,” or “I want to get started now!” We welcome this kind of determination. Unionizing is a difficult and often lengthy process when you consider outdated labor laws, hostile bosses, worker turnover, etc. These are the hard problems.

Unit compiles comprehensive content, tools, and actions from people across the labor movement and makes them more accessible by putting them in guide.unitworkers.com and organizing.unitworkers.com. Guide content will always be free. We’re continuing to expand access to our services through a Spanish translation of the guide and app and encourage you to get in contact with us if you see there are areas in need of improvement.

A solid unionizing education, election petition collection, legal advice, supporter surveys/assessments, document templates, collective action ideas, venues for coworker communication, one-on-ones with professional organizers, and more make up the toolkit of an effective union organizer.. Anyone can be an organizer, and our goal is to continue to expand how more people can participate in labor organizing.

It’s clear that at this point in time, in the midst of a global pandemic, American workers have an unprecedented level of interest in unions and in bettering their conditions on the job. At Unit, we’re committed to filling in the gaps, and building and delivering tools to workers looking to unionize unorganized workplaces.

Worker-Driven

Unit is a company that acts as your advisor - 100% of your union is run by you and your coworkers. It’s important to us that workers make all the decisions about their union, and not just because union democracy is required under the law.

What Unit DoesWhat Your Union Does
Advises your union on the law, organizing, and communicationsMakes all final strategic decisions and communicates with the broader membership
Suggests bargaining topics and languageVotes on bargaining priorities and language
Strategizes actions to win your campaignsVotes on and executes campaign actions
Provides collaboration and voting softwareVotes and can inspect voting software
Supports organizing with tools and educationBuilds unionizing support and knowledge
Charges monthly fee after you win a contractVotes on CBA contract and can cancel Unit service at any time
Hires the accountants, lawyers, etc. you need and advises you on best practicesReviews their work and implements best practices to ensure contract is enforced

You don’t have to keep working with us, even after a contract, but we hope you will! Think of us as doing all the behind-the-scenes stuff to free you up for the most important decisions.

Powerful

Ultimately the power of your union is in the relationships you build with your coworkers, and although we help catalyze these relationships, workers are the union and you are powerful without us.

That said, at Unit, professional organizers will help you analyze the power structure in your workplace and develop a strategy for change. Power analyses help worker organizers better understand who's in control of what aspects of any given company, and strategies for change are plans that help you leverage your collective power to enact workplace reforms. As union campaigns spring up at similar workplaces to yours, we will connect you so that you can bring even more leverage to improve the industry in which you work.

On the legal side of things, the labor unions we help workers form are protected unions with all the related rights and privileges, including:
  • A legally protected, good-faith negotiation of your working conditions with your employer during the collective bargaining process
  • A legally-binding contract that memorializes the improved working conditions
  • An opportunity to negotiate before your employer changes any working conditions
  • Job protections in the event of a legal strike
  • Right to a union representative in any disciplinary meetings
  • And more as outlined in the NLRA

Below, you can learn a bit more about me and the Unit Director of Organizing, Megan McRobert.

Jamie

When I was 8 years old my family moved from suburban Houston to a tiny town west of San Antonio - population 5000. This was my introduction, at a vital age, to income inequality. Not just between Houston and the hill country, but also between people of vastly different lives going to the same public school. Income inequality is the root of so many of our society’s problems.

After I turned 18, I left the hill country for MIT. This is where the late Alice Amsden, MIT’s Professor of Political Economy, first exposed me to ideas about unions and worker power.

However I didn’t truly understand what unions were until I was in grad school. Occupy Boston led me to work with the SEIU Justice for Janitors campaign at MIT and Harvard. Organizing students, protesting treatment, and seeing people win together really cemented unions as a vehicle for economic and social change. Unions work.

I got introduced to the ideas of tech and new models in labor through The Century Foundation and David Rolf’s work:
Roadmap to Rebuilding Worker Power
Finding Workers Where They Are
Virtual Labor Organizing

For 7 years I ran a medical device startup for chronic diseases, but realized it wasn’t making the change I hoped to see in the world - at least not quickly. After 7 years of following labor and brainstorming, I decided to dedicate myself to building Unit. My philosophy about making any change happen is to surround myself with people who know way more than I do - in this case, worker-organizers, professional organizers, engineers, union officials, union lawyers, etc. Then we come up with a plan, test it out, get feedback, and repeat. We still do this today, and I’m so excited for where this is going: addressing the income inequality that plagues our society.

Megan

I started with Unit as a writer for the Guide in February 2021 and joined Unit’s team full-time as the Organizing Director in September. I’ve been in the labor movement as a student organizer, a member and steward, and as a full-time organizer and contract representative.

I’ve always been drawn to the labor movement because it combines immediate, material impacts that improve workers’ lives with a commitment to shifting power dynamics over the long-term. As an undergraduate at Smith College, I was involved in student organizing and activism when the campus workers were negotiating their union contract. We learned that the college was not budging on key issues - including bereavement leave and pay raises - and organized students in solidarity with their demands. Workers won once the administration learned about a planned demonstration at the annual graduation ceremony. I took a winding road through labor that included an attempt to unionize grad students at UNM (who recently won an election!), selling union-made solar panels, organizing resident physicians with CIR-SEIU. In 2015, I started at the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) shortly after Gawker Media workers formed their union, kicking off a wave of unionizing in digital media. I organized workplaces including HuffPost, Vox Media, and The Onion, and worked with hundreds of members to mobilize during contract negotiations, including a walkout of podcast producers at Spotify.

In my organizing training, we were taught to keep all information very centralized - typically with a paid organizer. That was for a good reason - we didn’t want management to find out about the union effort. But it can also create barriers. At WGAE, the rapid growth in membership was only made possible by empowering workers with tools, resources, and infrastructure.

I was drawn to Unit because it’s a group of people grappling with the fundamental questions of how to organize more workers, rapidly and effectively. How do we preserve and utilize what we know are some of the best practices and core principles of the labor movement - empowering workers and building a culture of workplace solidarity through leadership development, strategic escalation, collective action, education, and democratic decision making? How do we scale organizing to build a more robust and powerful labor movement?

Unit is a digital labor advisor for unionizing, consisting of an organizing app (organizing.unitworkers.com), educational materials (guide.unitworkers.com), and professional staff guidance. These elements come together to help you organize your coworkers, get your union recognized, enshrine the changes you want into a contract, and manage your union and contract between subsequent negotiations.

Our current focus is on organizing independent unions where there isn’t currently union representation or an immediate fit with a national union (aka “greenfield organizing”). We also collaborate with national unions on smaller projects and refer workers to national unions when appropriate.

Unit is an advisor, not a union

We are not a labor union or labor organization ourselves. Unlike a labor union, we do not have any final say in your governance or decision-making. We help you form a labor union with your coworkers. Legally, an analogy is that we are similar to consultants, but instead of working for your boss, we work for you. In reality, we are so much more than consultants. We believe in the mission of empowering workers and building a bigger labor movement together.

Most unions contract lawyers and accountants, buy software, hire organizers and advisors, and create training for their members. We do all of this but in one integrated solution.

We provide you with all the services outlined in this document for free until you win your contract and start paying dues. You can stop working with us at any time. If you want to join up with an accepting national labor organization at any time, such as when you start collecting dues, you can. You can retain our services, switch to a national, or go it on your own as an independent. There is no financial or legal penalty in deciding to end your working agreement with Unit, though of course we hope you’ll stick around.

Ethics Primer

While we support workers in exercising their rights to organize, I believe it's important that our team is transparent about some of our core beliefs and operating principles.

To support our mission, we:
  • Educate and train worker-organizers to build unions that are autonomous, self-governed, democratic, diverse, transparent, and self-sustainable.
  • Recommend and support contract provisions that based on your priorities, while helping to raise standards for all workers.
  • Ensure your data is private. In addition to the protections you have under the NLRA, you are also protected by the Unit Privacy Policy that covers the app.
To support our mission, we do not:
  • Prioritize profit over the quality of advice you receive, which is one reason we have a uniform per-member fee structure across workplaces.
  • Own your data. You always own your data, at any part of the process, subject to maintaining the privacy of individual members.
  • Support campaigns or negotiate positions that we believe are detrimental to society at large. Such campaigns include but are not limited to police unions and such positions include but are not limited to vaccine-mandate prohibitions.

With You at Every Step

Our relationship changes each step of the way, but at Unit’s core we’re always an advisor.

Organizing

As you discuss unionizing with your coworkers, we provide educational resources to guide you through your campaign. We automate the legal paperwork and election petitions that you need to file behind the scenes. Software tools help you map your workplace and assess how supportive your coworkers are. Professional organizers help you strategize to maximize your chances of your bosses legally accepting your union, called voluntary recognition, or having your union be legally accepted by the federal government, by winning an NLRB election.

Negotiation

After your union is recognized, we help you create your union’s legal framework and negotiate a contract with your employer. After electing a bargaining committee of your peers, a survey will be circulated to determine everyone’s priorities. Those priorities will be used to inform negotiation and the contract language that Unit’s legal counsel will help you draft. At this stage, we also ensure that an effective independent union governance is established; legal advisors will help you write up your union’s charter and bylaws. Bargaining committee members work with the lead negotiator to settle a strong union contract. Our lawyers will make sure your contract doesn’t have any management loopholes before you vote to ratify it. A contract won’t be ratified unless a majority agrees on it - every member gets a vote on the contract!

You’re in the driver’s seat in front of your boss, but we’re there at any time to answer questions, give advice, or even have a chat to calm your nerves.

Contract Period

After the contract is ratified, your most intense work is done for a while. Whether your contract lasts 1 year or 5 years, we keep helping you between negotiations. Our assistance during this period consists of training new members, offboarding people that leave, monitoring for contract violations, handling member grievances (harassment, contract problems, etc.), setting up your bank account and dues collection management, providing lawyers when things get messy, and more. Even though you can take a breather, it’s important that your union stays well-organized during this period, or management will have the upper hand in future negotiations.

Affiliation

Affiliation is the process of becoming a part of a national union and designating them your sole bargaining representative. If, at any time while working with us, your union wants to research affiliation, we can help. We may receive a fee from the union you affiliate with to offset any costs of supporting your workplace through the organizing process. After affiliating with a national union, we will likely no longer be able to support you, depending on the structure of the national union.

Fees

We never take money from your employer. Our services are sustained through a fee collected from the unions we serve because we never want any incentive to help anyone but you. We don’t charge anything before you win a contract, because we don’t think it makes sense for you to pay without knowing what you’re winning.

Currently, the Unit fee is 0.8% of wages ($24/mo if you make $36k/year). You and your coworkers may decide to collect a higher amount to create your own fund, which you may use on whatever you all want - community action, social events, etc. Typical national union dues range between 1% and 2%.

Almost always these fees are completely offset by the wage increases you win through negotiation. First-contract wages increase more than 3% on average. And over time, that number grows to 11.2% and even higher for people of color who face more pay inequity outside of unions. This means that by the time you pay dues, you make more money.

Because we’re new, if there’s anything you aren’t happy with, we’ll give you a full refund in exchange for your valuable feedback.

Structure

Unit of Work, Inc. is the company that we are incorporated under to make Unit’s software. It is a Delaware public benefit corporation, with the following mission written into the charter: “supporting the rights of workers to organize to improve their places of work.” Today, the company has a one-person governing board - me. The team has critical influence through their labor (and their right to withhold it), but ultimately by trusting Unit, you are trusting me and the contracts that protect you on our website, such as the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You are trusting our team, including me, to follow through with everything we promise. At our stage and size, it is very doable for me to have a conversation with every organizing committee we support to build that trust. However, in the long term, we will need to develop a governance structure that inspires confidence and trust without a personal meeting. Ultimately, we aim to be governed and owned by the workers we support.

Unit Staff Union

Unit staff have themselves organized an independent union. I was proud to voluntarily recognize them. You may reach them at unit.staff.union@gmail.com

I call on other executives to do what is best for the workers they employ and their organizations. To those executives: Publicly support unionizing and recognize your workers’ unions.

Funding

In large part the initial funding source we chose - equity investors - was to facilitate paying the software developers, labor organizers, and educators that make this model work. The current goal is to get Unit funded solely by worker union fees, which means they will be 100% of the influence of the company. But we aren’t there yet. To get there we have raised and will continue to raise funds from multiple investors.

These investors expect to get paid back multiple times what they put in (that is their business). Once union fees surpass what we need to operate at a large scale, we plan to pay them back via a financed buyout and transform the organization into a worker owned co-op. Financed buyouts are rare for venture-backed companies, but so is organizing at the scale we are aiming for.

Until then, we will be transparent about our investors and specifically any conflicts they have with unions that we are organizing. Below is a list of our investors to-date:
  • Bloomberg Beta
  • Draper Associates
  • Schlaf Angel Fund
  • Haystack
  • E14
  • Gutter Capital

If you’re considering using Unit to unionize, the best way to get to know us better is to get in touch. You can either email me directly at jamesw@unitworkers.com, tweet me at @jamieearlwhite, or use the in-browser chat in the bottom-right of the website. Regardless of what path you take to unionize, thank you so much for being part of a solution that makes our society healthier, more equal, and a more just place to live.