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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

After avoiding unions for decades, tech workers are increasingly interested in ways that the labor movement might help give them a stronger voice inside their powerful organizations.

Why it matters: We're not about to see broad-scale unionization at tech companies — but even a small foothold could serve as a check on the power of Amazon, Google and others.

Driving the news:

On Thursday, the Alphabet Workers Union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Bureau on behalf of a member who works at Modis Engineering, a subcontractor that provides data center services for Google.

  • The complaint alleges that she was unfairly suspended and criticized after engaging in protected activities such as voicing support for the union and discussing pay and working condition issues.

Yes, but: The Google effort got off to a strong start, but has already hit some bumps as members were blindsided by an effort to take the push global.

The big picture: Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor expert and professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, notes that while unions are thought of as representing assembly-line workers, some of the most powerful unions today are ones that represent highly paid, very specialized workers, such as professional football players.

  • By contrast, many unions that represent manufacturing employees have lost power in recent decades as companies can use the threat or reality of moving work overseas.
  • "Unions are for a variety of reasons disappearing among actual low-wage, blue collar assembly workers," he said.
  • He points to the unionization of actors and other movie industry professionals in the 1930s as an example of well paid workers pushing back against a very powerful institution — the Hollywood studios.

Between the lines: Tech is actually seeing both kinds of unionization efforts. The Alabama workers at Amazon, for example, are warehouse workers and a modern example of a typical organized labor effort.

  • The minority union effort at Google is more akin to the Hollywood example, though actors, writers, directors and even producers are represented by full unions, rather than the minority union approach being taken at Alphabet.
  • What unites them is that they both represent a break in values and goals between tech’s managerial class and the rank and file, and are an expression of the latter trying to band together to increase its power against the former.

Changing attitudes are behind some of the renewed effort, Lichtenstein said.

  • "We do have a sizable proportion of the young people in this country open to radical ideas now in a way they weren’t for many years," he said. "I think that is having an impact on Silicon Valley."

Reality check: Lichtenstein said workers don't have to unionize fully to be successful. Simply organizing and speaking out without getting fired can be a victory for labor, he said.

  • But, he cautions, it is "not clear that will be the case."

Go deeper

The pandemic-era union renaissance

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The pandemic walloped the job market, but it might have strengthened unions.

The big picture: Even though the pandemic brought historic job losses, the share of U.S. workers who are union members rose half a percentage point to 10.8%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Friday.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.

Del Rio bridge camp empty following Haitian migrant surge

A boy bathes himself in a jug of water inside a migrant camp at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 21 in Del Rio, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The last migrants camping under the Del Rio International Bridge, which connects Texas and Mexico, departed on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced during a White House press briefing.

Driving the news: Thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, had arrived to the makeshift camp after crossing the southern border seeking asylum. Roughly 1,800 migrants will now head to U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing centers.