Employees at Mapbox Inc., which makes mapping tools used by Instacart Inc. and Snap Inc., have announced their intention to unionize, making them the latest group of tech workers to embrace organized labor in a traditionally nonunion industry.
The union seeks to represent all 222 U.S. employees, technical or not, at the SoftBank Group Corp.-backed company. Nearly two-thirds of workers have already signed union cards with the Communications Workers of America, which has increasingly focused on tech workplaces in recent years.
Under U.S. law, companies have the option to recognize a union as soon as a majority of workers have signed cards, or to refuse to do so unless workers go through a government-supervised election, during which employers often campaign against unionization. Mapbox didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether it will voluntarily recognize the union.
As Mapbox evolves, it’s critical for workers to have formal influence, said Trevor Specht, an IT developer. “We don’t know what’s going to happen years down the road with Mapbox. And, we want to have a voice in preserving what’s good, as well as addressing any challenges that we identify,” Specht said.
Changes at Mapbox appear to be on the horizon. In recent months, the company has been in talks to go public via a special purpose acquisition company overseen by SoftBank, and has appointed an Amazon.com Inc. alum, Peter Sirota, as chief executive officer.
Unions can improve retention in an industry where workers regularly change jobs in search of better benefits or pay, said Andy McCoy, a software engineer who has worked at half a dozen venture-backed firms over the past decade. “Tech workers, myself included, have found that we don’t want to keep having to jump job to job.”
Flagship U.S. tech companies have remained nonunion for decades, but workplace activism has increasingly roiled the sector. CWA has guided many of these efforts, recently winning union recognition at a handful of companies, and initiating campaigns at Alphabet Inc. and for tech workers at New York Times Co.
Founding members of the Mapbox Workers Union were inspired by these other organizing campaigns, said Lizzie Gooding, a back-end engineer. She added that tech employees should use their relative privilege in the workplace to advocate for changes that benefit everyone, including those not traditionally thought of as tech employees, such as salespeople or warehouse workers.
“We see ourselves as part of a larger movement — it’s bigger than just Mapbox,” Specht said. “Things are really moving in organizing in the tech industry. And, you know, we’re part of that.”