With Card Check, Some Unions Plan to Unionize Silicon Valley

In the lobbying community, America’s high-tech companies have always had a reputation for timidity. They have historically tried to stay out of policy fights that could sully their above-the-fray reputation, in favor of issues that lent themselves to bipartisan coalitions. The bread and butter of the tech sector lobbyist is in areas like funding for science and math education, and visas for a few thousand skilled workers. But as Card Check moves front and center in the policy debate, that may be changing.

According to the San Francisco Business Times, organizers regard Silicon Valley as fertile ground for efforts to unionize:

The bill’s passage will lead to “significant organizing efforts in Silicon Valley,” said Garry Mathiason, a labor and employment attorney at Littler Mendelson P.C. Silicon Valley’s tech employers “are not immune merely because they are in technology or businesses where little union organizing has taken place…”

“Times are changing,” said Mark Ross, a labor and employment lawyer at Seyfarth Shaw LLP. “We’re in a troubled economy. People may be looking for other ways of protecting themselves and insuring that they are compensated appropriately…”

“A forward-thinking union could set up a web site to create a non-stop certification drive at an unlimited number of Silicon Valley companies,” said John Miano, the founder and a board member of the Programmers Guild, a professional society that advances the interests of workers in information technology fields. “This bill has the potential for having a major impact upon Silicon Valley and technology fields.”

It sounds like a reach — at least at first glance. Unions have never made a serious effort to break into Silicon Valley, and the culture of the community make it seem far-fetched. But the labor movement seems to have a newfound ‘yes we can’ mentality, and as Mr. Miano points out, it would cost very little to dip a toe into the water to check on the prospects for success.

And as labor advocates in California begin to consider how Card Check might expand their playing field, the tech lobby in D.C. is taking some initial steps to oppose the bill:

Up to now, large tech groups have been on the sidelines in what is likely to be one of the roughest fights in Congress next year. A few, however, are preparing to weigh in. That makes other tech lobbyists nervous that, by doing so, the industry could sacrifice relatively good relationships with Democrats and, therefore, jeopardize some of their other legislative priorities.

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, is on the side of weighing in.

“The tech industry has been asleep on the switch on this one,” Shapiro told The Hill. “If you want to devastate our country economically and shut us down every week with a strike, card-check is the answer.”

Shapiro’s group represents about 2,000 tech companies, including manufacturers and retailers. He says some member companies have threatened to move their operations overseas if the bill passes…

Other tech groups don’t like the bill, either.

“Our board is very much opposed to the bill,” said John Palafoutas, senior vice president for AeA, a tech trade association with 2,500 member companies.

But the group seems sensitive to fears that being too aggressive in their opposition could damage their relationships with Democratic leaders, who support the bill.

This is the last thing Democratic leaders want. The tech community is one of the Democrats’ most faithful allies; they have no interest in seeing unions upset that. If high-tech executives engage in this fight, their objections will carry disproportionate weight — on an issue that is already challenging enough for Democrats.