Less than two months after seeking to form the only union at a leading US architecture firm, workers at SHoP Architects in New York have officially ended their efforts.
“We never imagined that we would have to write this statement, but after a difficult attempt at organizing which was met with a powerful anti-union campaign, we have decided to withdraw our petition,” said the group, which calls itself Architectural Workers United, said in a press release Thursday.
The statement did not provide examples of union busting, but added: “We have seen how fear of the unknown, coupled with misinformation, can quickly dominate individual imaginations of something bigger than the status quo. .
SHoP, in a statement, said the group’s decision to withdraw an election petition filed with the National Labor Relations Board “reflects our staff’s clear desire to jointly determine our collective future as an employee-owned company.” “. The company said “any allegations of bad faith campaigning are unfounded and an attempt to undermine the vast majority of SHoP employees who have made their views known.”
The organizing drive was a response to long-simmering tensions in the architectural profession, where workers often rack up tens of thousands of dollars in debt through college and graduate school, but earn modest salaries while working long hours. time.
The campaign also appeared to reflect a growing interest in organizing among white-collar workers, such as tech workers, doctors, journalists and academics, who have formed unions over the past decade to deal with a loss of job autonomy in addition to weak wage growth and job security.
At SHoP, a leading company of about 135 employees that is known for working on projects such as the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and a luxury Manhattan building formerly known as Steinway Tower, several employees said that they worked 50 hours a week on average and 60 or 70 hours a week every month or every two months when a big deadline loomed.
Typical of the industry, many of those who worked those hours in recent years were junior architects earning $50,000 to $80,000 a year – more than average for all workers, but little given the educational requirements of the profession. According to a report last year from the American Institute of Architects, an industry group, few architects have annual salaries above $100,000 to $120,000, and many earn less, a decade or more into their careers. .
The organizing drive at SHoP appears to have been sparked by the economic uncertainty introduced by the pandemic, as well as the consequences for employees of working long hours remotely. “Many of us feel pushed to the limits of our productivity and sanity,” employees wrote in a letter to company management announcing the union in December.
Among other changes, supporters had hoped a union could help curb the practice of unpaid or undercompensated overtime, which is common in the industry. But skeptics within the profession have warned that such changes could backfire, increasing labor costs that rival companies could cut when bidding on a project.
In response to the union’s initial announcement, SHoP said it was sensitive to workers’ concerns over wages and hours, saying it had recently turned down several projects it said would not generate enough revenue to staff appropriately. The company also said it prefers to employ architects on a long-term basis rather than recruiting staff as projects come and go, as some competitors seek to do.
Even union-friendly employees said the company’s labor practices were better than the industry average – noting that the company pays its interns, for example.
The organizing effort of leading architectural firms does not seem to have died out with the union campaign of SHoP. Workers at two other prominent architecture firms were organizing when SHoP workers went public in December, said David DiMaria, an organizer with the International Association of Machinists and Industrial Workers. aerospace, which the architects of SHoP had hoped to affiliate with.
In an interview this week, Mr DiMaria said those efforts were continuing and that workers at five other companies had contacted the union and started organizing since then.
“It started a conversation about the value of architectural work and the realization that without leverage there will never be value,” Mr. DiMaria said of the SHoP campaign. “The organization will continue because it is the only way to solve these problems.”