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    Which Architectural Firms Support Unions

    Everyday Architect
    Jan 6, '22 5:26 PM EST

    Unions are getting to be a hot topic these days with many workers attempting to unionize in various industries. Architecture is not left out of this discussion and recently SHoP employees indicated their desire to join and be represented by a union (read more about that here). Additionally this is a topic that comes up from time to time in the forums, and there is some good discussion there if you're so inclined. 

    I decided to look a little bit closer at firms to understand if any would actively support unionization or self-organization of their employees. I know the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) has their Just certification for employers that includes criteria to indicate their union friendliness (v1.0 certification) or support of the freedom of association (v2.0 certification). So I decided to take some time to go through each company in the Just database to document, in perhaps a better or more easily browsable format, some of these firms and link to the policies they submitted to ILFI to support their claim on their Just label. 

    (image source)

    The list below includes US-based architecture firms with 50 or more employees (as reported or indicated in their Just certificate). There are plenty of firms with less than 50 employees that you can dive in and look at too if you want to take that time. I just made 50 a cut off to reduce my time and show which firms might be potential ones for a unionization effort to take place in and have a larger impact in the industry given their size. As such I've listed them in descending order based on number of employees.

    Descriptions included in parenthesis after the indication of the level are my paraphrasing of the ILFI criteria indicator metrics (v1.0, and v2.0), and are included for quick reference and understanding. You should click through the links to read the employer's policy statement to support the indicator. If you don't want to click through the v1.0 and v2.0 links above to read the actual criteria, at least understand that Level 1 for v1.0 is essentially Level 2 for v2.0 and so on. 

    Note: this information is based on the certification reporting, so it currently could be out of date depending on when it was submitted/reported to ILFI. Also some of these certifications have already expired, or will expire soon (I haven't made any attempt to filter those or note them here). 

    Basically (for v2.0 certifications) Level 1 is the bare minimum you should probably expect from an employer and essentially amounts to what I'd say is them simply pointing out/documenting the law for employees. Level 2 (and Level 1, v1.0) is essentially them stating they won't break the law (... my non-legal opinion). Opting out of the question raises more questions than the employers would probably like (at least for me).

    I'll also caution that you shouldn't take a firm's representation in the Just label as fact. I found a few cases where it seems the firm either didn't understand the intent of the criteria, or made some sweeping statements that might indicate compliance if you read between the lines, but it likely could have been written to avoid the direct question of do you support your employees right to self-organize and collectively bargain. I'm not sure what ILFI does to substantiate the claim in the label with the documentation, but it could use some work.

    Example of the first is from Legat Architects where they simply note they encourage and support employees to join professional organizations (AIA, ILFI, USGBC, etc.) by paying for the dues. An example of the second is Steinberg Hart where they spend a lot of characters but yet never quite come out and say they actively support employee self-organization for collective bargaining purposes like the criteria is clearly meant to address. In fact, I think if they simply stopped after the first paragraph that would have been better than pontificating on the various ways they do this, which simply shows their misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) of meeting the criteria. If you want to call attention to others in the comments, please feel free to do so.

    Finally, if any of the certifications change as they expire and are updated, or you can provide publicly accessible information to refute any of this information, please let me know in the comments. I'll be happy to update this post as information changes. Actually, that's one of two main reasons I made this post here ... I can edit/update it with new information. Something I can't do in a forum post. The other reason is I knew it would be long and I didn't want it to get lost or clutter up a forum thread as those evolve.

    *On those firms that did not provide supporting documentation, I do find this interesting, but I'm not quite ready to claim malice.** It could be that the documentation was lost in the certification process, or there was an issue uploading the files to Dropbox on the part of ILFI rather than the firm. So I'm still deciding to take their word for it, but I'd recommend skepticism until you can see something in writing. 

    **As a way of substantiating this, I reached out to someone I know who works in one of the firms noted as not providing supporting documentation. I asked them to see if they could find any written policy in the employee manual/handbook/guidelines to support the claim. They did respond that yes, the firm does indeed have a paragraph indicating their union friendliness or support for freedom of association which is in line with the indicated level in their Just label. However, I did decide to leave this particular firm in the list above as unsubstantiated in the interest of public transparency. If anyone can provide a link to a publicly accessible statement from any of these firms, I will happily update this post to reflect that.

    • 1 Comment

    • reallynotmyname

      Its a minimum $2,010 fee to get this certification!   Wouldn't it be better to give that money to our staff or donate it to charity?

      Jan 8, 22 10:51 am  · 

      It's all marketing and is probably budgeted that way. $2k is probably some pretty cheap marketing in the grand scheme of things. My firm gives much more to charity and staff. YMMV

      Plus, it's not about the certification. The certification was a simple way I could gather the data on any firms that are outwardly stating via the certification they would support unions for their employees. Getting a firm as large as (for example) CallisonRTKL unionized would be a huge win for those interested in transforming the industry and they state (through the certification) they are a firm that "demonstrates active support of employee self-organization and/or unionization for collective bargaining purposes."

      Jan 9, 22 1:27 pm  · 
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An ellipsis [...] is used to signal an omission, an unfinished thought, aposiopesis, or brief awkward silence. Architectural ellipses are those aspects of the profession we (perhaps intentionally) omit, gloss over, or let dwindle in silence. Generally applied this blog should encompass many aspects of the profession. Yet, as an intern architect (now architect) I'll focus primarily on the architectural ellipses that occur in the internship process (and beyond).

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