As everyone knows, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union has been trying to organize Walmart workers for years but has failed to do so. Its latest effort involves a tailored app that workers are encouraged to download onto their personal phones.
The app lets Walmart workers ask questions – anonymously, if they choose – about company policy and employees’ rights. Some of those questions will be answered by humans, but the app has used IBM’s Watson technology to put together replies to hundreds of the most common questions a Walmart worker might have. Users can also share stories and chat with each other – similar to a private Facebook group which unions have been covertly using for years.
So, if you’re not Walmart you shouldn’t worry, right? Wrong. The app’s developers themselves have said that they hope to license the app to other labor groups to help other unions organize other workers. This technology is too new to determine whether it will have a material impact on unionizing non-union companies. But it should be noted that unions continue to industriously seek alternative ways at reaching non-union employees while companies largely read annual headlines that unionization rates continue to fall and convince themselves that their employees will not ever want a union. It’s a risk companies take. Sometimes they win. Sometimes they lose. Every time, though, the companies who lost, wish they had won.
Matt Austin who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.