Could the burgeoning tech sector be the next big union organizing target?

In the recent past, BC’s unions dominated from their base in the forestry, fishing, mining and natural gas sectors.  Today, those sectors are withering and have now been eclipsed by the tech sector, which counts 92,700 employees in BC alone, and as many as 864,000 across Canada.

That’s a 14 per cent increase in BC over the past two years, surpassing the growth rate in both Ontario and Quebec, as well as the entire US industry. Similar growth numbers in future years are only being held back by shortages of workers with design, software development and engineering skills. Our colleges and institutes are trying to ramp up to fill this demand, but they still can't supply.

A report out of the Brookfield Institute at Ryerson University noted that tech sector jobs in Alberta and BC are nearing 5 per cent of the workforce, while in Ontario and Quebec they exceed 6 per cent. While many of these new companies are start-ups with few employees, many have grown well past that size and have large staffs. In Vancouver the sector is pushing demand for expensive downtown office space, which is still much cheaper than in Silicon Valley or San Francisco.

Sectors with such frantic growth rates inevitably produce victims – staff who can't keep up are dropped in favour of fresh-faced graduates clutching their university diplomas, being hired by managers desperate to quickly collar enough talent to satisfy clients’ needs.

Unions with thoughtful and sophisticated approaches to this new sector could find themselves providing a platform which ensures fair treatment for all employees – the primary goal of all unions – which would work to the benefit of the companies as well.

Sophisticated top-down organizing might well work wonders for this sector – for the right union.

Jan 12, 2017