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SEP 19, 2019 | COWORKER.ORG
From Wayfair to Google, employees have recently organized workplace walkouts to call for changes at their companies — building on the long tradition of strikes and work stoppages.
In the latest iteration of this workplace tactic, workers are planning an action in solidarity with youth climate activists called the Global Climate Strikes on September 20 and September 27, 2019.
Employees in the tech industry including at Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have announced plans to join and use the global event as an opportunity to push their companies to change policies that impact the climate. For example, you can read the list of demands from Amazon Employees for Climate Justice here.
Do you want to organize a walkout in your workplace? First off: a quick note on your workplace rights in the United States.
Section 7 of the NLRA protects the right of many non-supervisory employees to work together to improve their terms and conditions of employment. This protection includes the right of employees to speak publicly to improve your and your coworker’s working conditions, wages, benefits, and other aspects of their employment. It also protects the rights of workers to organize in many other ways including actions like: starting a petition with your coworkers, working with your coworkers to ask your employer for a microwave in the break room, removing forced arbitration for all employees, speaking to press about those issues, and other actions you believe will improve your workplace.
Some types of workers including, but not limited to, government employees, agricultural and domestic workers, and independent contractors are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the federal legislation that gives employees the right to take collective action over workplace issues. Others, like railway and airline workers, are subject to other legislation and restrictions on their right to strike. In some cases, workers in specific states have broader protections. (You can find more information on this subject here.)
It is important to note that even if you are included under the NLRA, a walkout that isn’t meant to collectively improve the working conditions, wages, benefits, and other aspects of employment would likely fall outside of these protections and you could risk retaliation and other repercussions.
Here are some ideas to consider to make it effective:
Get the support of your coworkers. Workers have power in numbers, so it is important to get coworkers on board. You can check out some tips on how to talk about workplace issues with your coworkers here. There are even more do’s and don’ts for engaging colleagues and supporters in this post.
Location scouting, permits, logistics. What do you want people to do once they’ve walked off the job and into the street? Will there be speakers, a picket line, or group chants? Think about location, whether you want to get a permit to occupy a public park or area, etc. Make sure your location can hold the amount of people you anticipate participating — and don’t forget to have plans in place for different types of weather. If you are expecting the media to be there, it can be helpful to envision the image you would want featured on the news and then plan backwards. Where will a speaker stand and what equipment would they need? Where will supporters and the press stand? Creating a detailed schedule for the day ahead of time and sending someone to the location early on the day of the event to make sure everything is going smoothly is a good idea.
How to handle your employer. Do you want to proactively notify your employer of the planned walkout? Or organize the walkout without your employer’s knowledge or blessing? If you plan to notify the higher-ups, you’ll need to figure out how to share that information and when to share it (e.g. the morning of the walkout vs. as it’s being planned). Do you want to send an open letter to your employer that is signed by a critical mass of people, concealing the identities of any leaders or organizers of the walkout? Or do you think it’s fine to speak directly to your employer as an individual?
Getting on the local TV news. Once you’ve got a critical mass of coworkers who’ve committed to joining a walkout, consider whether it makes sense to alert local media about your plans. Before you do so, be sure that you and your coworkers have agreed on some clear and simple talking points and have a plan to field press requests to coworkers who are willing and available to speak to reporters. Writing a statement of purpose and some answers to frequently asked questions will help you all stay on message and field any requests quickly. It can be useful to set up an internal system to track incoming requests; to log which coworkers are responding to each reporter; and to share links to published pieces.
You can identify journalists to reach out to by checking the staff pages of your local TV, print and online news outlets and seeing if there are reporters who have covered similar stories in the past. If you can’t find email addresses, reaching out to reporters via Twitter can often be very effective. When in doubt, most outlets have a way to send in a tip or submit a story idea. If you don’t want news outlets to report on an issue before a specific date, clearly note that the news is embargoed until that date — but remember that word could still get out ahead of time. Sometimes it’s helpful to start with one individual reporter who you trust to tell your story best and offering that reporter an exclusive. Communicate clearly to the reporter that you are willing to exclusively offer them interviews about your walkout and be sure that you and your coworkers respect the terms of your agreement.
Visuals. You’re about to stage a public action, and the best public actions have powerful visuals. There are a number of ways to create a walkout with compelling visual elements. Consider crowdfunding the printing of banners, planning a sign-making party, or coordinating what you and your coworkers wear to work that day (e.g. everyone wears a green shirt).
Inviting allies and supporters to join. Do you think your workplace walkout would benefit from community support? Consider reaching out to local faith groups, elected leaders, social movement groups, and others who might be interested in supporting workers taking action on an issue. Be clear about what kind of support you’re looking for — do you want allies to speak to the media or to a crowd, or simply show up to provide support and connection? Don’t be afraid to ask organizations and speakers to stick to specific talking points or refrain from speaking to the media (e.g. “We’d love for you to join this event, but we’re asking groups to refrain from speaking to the media. We want the employees at this company to be the focus of this event.”). This is your action, and you get to determine what takes place.
Amplifying your action on social media. So you’ve organized 100 coworkers to walkout — that’s great! Each participant can use personal social media accounts to amplify the walkout. Come up with a hashtag (check social media platforms ahead of time to make sure the hashtag isn’t already in use for a different purpose) and encourage everyone to post about why they’re walking out. [Note: Speaking out on social media comes with elevated risk — employers can later find who tweeted about a walkout and target them for retaliation.] Identifying volunteers ahead of time who can commit to live-tweet and stream events can be helpful.
Remind, remind, remind. Organizing a successful action is 90% follow-up. Once you get a commitment from a coworker to join a walkout, make sure to follow-up with them (more than once is best!) to confirm their plans to attend. You can do this in-person, via email, text or a secure messaging tool like Signal. If you plan on sending a mass email or text, make sure you’re not violating anyone’s trust by exposing their name and participation to others.
Reflect and regroup. After your event, it’s often a good idea to debrief how it went right away and discuss your next steps. Make sure to develop a plan for quickly updating people about what will come next before the energy goes away.
Ask for help. Do you have other questions about participating in a workplace walkout like the Climate Strike? Are you looking for additional resources or connections in your workplace organizing? You can reach out to our team through this form on Coworker.org.
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