Posts tagged with "unions":

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Section of Architectural Workers sets up union efforts in London

The first union for architects has been founded in London. The Section of Architectural Workers (SAW) aims to improve the toxic design culture of overwork and address issues like stagnating wages, discrimination, and industry-wide attitudes towards mental health.  SAW operates within the United Voices of the World (UVM), a relatively young but influential union based in London with 3,000 members. According to the Architects' Journal, a SAW spokesperson said some of its members had been working 60 hours of overtime per week, while others hadn't taken a weekend break for four months. The union is supported by many architects and administrators in the field, including notable alumni of the University College London Bartlett School of Architecture Thandi Loewenson, Jane Rendell, and David Roberts. They describe the unionization as a "landmark moment in the ethical production of the built environment."  The industry has steadily felt the pressure to take on big-ticket, ground-up built projects with low-risk profiles to compensate for tight competition over projects and wages. Kate Macintosh, a London-based architect and union member, told AJ that the "toxic system" has penetrated the profession since 1979. "Those rights have been steadily eroded to the point where one in three of the workforce are on zero-hours contracts and typically work 25 hours a week.”  The culture of overwork trickles down even to unpaid interns, who often work from 9 a.m. to well into the evening—sometimes past midnight—consistently. This year’s Serpentine Pavilion, designed by Junya Ishigama, made headlines after the press discovered the architect solicited unpaid interns to assist in its fabrication. Subsequently, it was revealed just how widespread the practice was. Not only was the inquiry illuminating of the lack of pay but also the degree of overwork even the youngest in the profession are expected to take on. An internship job posting for Lot-Ek also announced this in plain language last March:
 
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Alleged email from Lot-ek Architecture & Design New York, March 2018. The office have been approached for comment - #arch4all #archishame

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While architectural workers have attempted to unionize before and other varieties of unions like the construction-sector UCATT have tried to attract architects to join them, no effort has ever come to fruition quite like SAW. The breadth of professionals enveloped and supported by SAW, from architects to BIM technicians and cleaners, are using this platform to help support each other and therefore support their industry from top to bottom.  “It will transform the environment in which we work, encouraging and empowering us all to step up and speak out to confront systemic social injustices and inequality, climate breakdown and biodiversity loss,” said SAW, asserting that unionization will allow architects and their firms to focus on the projects that really matter, rather than who stays at their desk the latest.
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Why don’t architects have unions?

In late August 2019, the AIA’s New York chapter hosted a panel moderated by architecture activist group The Architecture Lobby at the Center for Architecture called Firm Handbook and Best Practices for Office Policies. After all the panelists finished listing their offices’ progressive policies, including flexible work hours and codes of conduct, an audience member (in a crowd notably stacked with Lobby members, myself included) asked a question about unions and collective bargaining. The associate director of human resources of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates responded: “Is this a case of wanting a union because the people suggesting it feel like the employer is the jerk and has to be controlled? Or, are you just saying you want to be able to give feedback and be heard and help influence the culture of the firm? Those are two very different things. If the general industry is really that bad and needs to be regulated by something like a union, then we all have a problem.” This statement is ripe for analysis that could keep us here for days, but let’s keep to a few key points. First, what is a union? By our HR professional’s estimation, it is a mechanism for controlling jerks in power. More accurately, however, a union is a twofold agreement. The first part of the agreement is between all the workers of a company or sector to elect representatives to negotiate their interests with the managers and owners of that company or sector. This is collective bargaining, to which everyone has the right under U.S. law. The second agreement is between workers and management that the union will be recognized, have a seat at the table, and be able to negotiate the terms of their employment. Within the scaffolding of this structure, a union can look like and achieve whatever it can agree on collectively, which—and hopefully to our HR professional’s delight—includes giving feedback and influencing company culture.  Now, does the desire for unionization indicate an industry-wide crisis? Yes, it does, but this crisis is not caused by unionization. Rather, unionization is a tool to address it. But this crisis is not unique to architecture. It is a broader issue about the rising precarity for workers in an economy where there are fewer and fewer paths for stability, where the gig economy is the economy, and workers have little choice but to cling to whatever benefits they are given. So to our HR professional’s point, we do all have a problem. A progressive firm owner may point to their policies—as many on the Firm Handbook and Best Practices for Office Policies panel did—and protest “we have health insurance, parental leave, paid overtime, flexible hours, etc.,” and all of these policies are crucial, but they are not the same as worker power. Worker power is not a cudgel to be used against management or regulate an industry; it’s a tool to ensure stability.  The question of why architectural workers (a term that includes designers as well as the administrative, communications, human resources, and business development workers who make the profession externally legible) haven’t unionized is richly complicated. It has as much to do with general labor consciousness under capitalism in the United States as it does with the idiosyncratic structure of the profession itself. It is difficult for workers who consider themselves middle class to imagine that they need a union. It difficult for workers who manage themselves on baroque systems of informal interpersonal relationships (“Our office is a family!”) to imagine they need a union. It is most acutely difficult for workers who do not consider themselves workers at all to imagine they need a union (this point explained is with greater clarity in Marisa Cortright’s excellent piece in Failed Architecture).   In the United States, the middle class is not a solid status. What we have instead is a gradient between precarity and privilege. However, from The Fountainhead to How I Met Your Mother, popular representations of architects code the profession as comfortably middle (or even upper) class. When I speak with architectural workers in the Architecture Lobby about unions, one of their top motivations for pursuing unionization is the gap between their material conditions and the myth of middle-class status. We ask each other, on your salary and benefits alone, can you afford a medical crisis? A pregnancy? Student loan payments? A mortgage? Retirement? Yet one of the many hesitations about unionization is the hope that keeping their heads down and eventually being promoted to management will afford them these forms of stability. But in most architecture firms, even those with yearly reviews, the path to promotion is murky and the trained managerial class is flimsy at best. This stagnation leads to instability, with workers leaving to seek opportunity elsewhere and often getting stuck again. Firms then find themselves retraining and retraining staff while steadily losing institutional memory. I’ve heard architects compare themselves to doctors and lawyers when considering their material conditions, citing length of training and licensure as similarities. But have architects made themselves as essential to society as doctors and lawyers? I do not ask this to insist architects do not deserve to be paid more. However, the purpose of an architecture union should not be to enshine architects materially among a professionalized working elite. I ask this question to point out that architecture has both enjoyed and been limited by an ambiguous position in society, where its value is guarded by mystique. When we feel pain, we look to doctors. When we find ourselves in legal trouble, we look to lawyers. But what triggers a commonplace social need for architects? Unionization would create an opportunity for architects to collectively clarify the profession’s relationship to society by standing in solidarity with all architectural workers and giving a structure for architectural workers to be in solidarity with other organized workforces. As an example, the Service Employees International Union includes healthcare workers who have both created a bargaining structure with their managers as well as a means to advocate for the type of healthcare system they would like to work in. Their advocacy helped to realize the Affordable Care Act. What could a united architectural workforce realize within and beyond the profession? As a member of the Architecture Lobby, which firmly believes in unionization as a tool to bring greater stability to the architectural labor force and to give a clear societal voice to the profession, I talk to architectural workers to help them understand what they can achieve in their offices and beyond. When we begin to talk to each other without fear or withholding, when we are transparent about our experiences, our salaries, our benefits, and our ambitions, when we come together as workers, the shape of the profession becomes more distinct and easier for those beyond the extremely wealthy to connect to. In this condition, a stable and united workforce has the ability to make our perspective essential to society on issues like climate, infrastructure, alternative practice, speculative development, securitization of public space, and much more.  In his essay “Black Box,” Reyner Bahman once quoted the funny anecdote of an architect being “asked for a pencil that could be used to tighten the tourniquet on the limb of a person bleeding to death in the street.” The architect responds “Will a 2B do?” It’s often used to bemoan the profession’s useless fussiness. But the architect had a pencil. The tool was in hand. It’s the mindset that’s missing.  Jessica Myers is an editor, writer, and podcast producer based in Brooklyn. She is the co-steward of New York’s Architecture Lobby chapter.
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The Commonwealth Club's San Francisco headquarters honors its union history

The slow days of summer are a good time to catch up on important projects that somehow fell through the editorial cracks during the year. One such project is the Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (LMS)-designed headquarters for the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. The Club, one of the institutions that make San Francisco such a unique and progressive city, was founded in 1903; as a public affairs forum, it presents more than 450 events a year. It has been looking for a home since it was founded and its “early plans to acquire a headquarters building were derailed by the 1906 earthquake.” A few years ago, the organization purchased a site fronting San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront boulevard that was occupied by a building almost as old as the organization and once the home of the city’s Longshoreman’s Association. The dock workers union was led by Harry Bridges, who famously shut down the city for four days in 1934, and for a city proud of its union history, this qualifies as an important historic site. LMS have created a fitting monument and organization headquarters on the Embarcadero. The firm designed a workable plan for the Club that includes two auditoria, meeting rooms, a library, gallery, boardroom, roof terrace, catering facilities, and a state-of-the-art audio/broadcast system and high-tech communications platform for the club’s weekly radio broadcast. But the firm’s most important addition to the new headquarters is its facade design, and the building, as a pass-through property, has two entrances. The Steuart Street entrance was the principal entry for the longshoremen, and is where three workers were shot (two of whom died on what is called “Bloody Thursday”), which was preserved by the architects as an important historical marker. But on the Embarcadero, which is one of the most important thoroughfares in San Francisco, LMS designed a beautifully detailed new glass curtain wall facade. The curtainwall is clear glass with operable windows that highlight the top floor auditorium where the lectures and talks take place, and opens up to welcome the city inside. It’s a beautiful and elegant public face for this important public policy institution, and Marsha Maytum claims “we were thrilled to be able to create a home for civil discourse that is needed more than ever.”
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New York City's building trades unions rally at City Hall for higher wages, better working conditions

Today, members of New York's building trades unions marched on City Hall for wages that correspond to the rising cost of living, safer working conditions, more diversity, and strong unions to advocate on behalf of all workers. Middle Class Strong, a grassroots coalition administered through the Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, organized the march and rally. https://twitter.com/LiUNALocal55/status/675041988228620289 Richard Jacobs Jr., business development specialist at D.C. 9 1974 (International Union of Painters & Allied Trades), noted that unions oppose "contractors and businesses that skirt paying a fair wage." The unions, moreover, provide for worker's economic security by ensuring that its members have another job lined up when their current job wraps up. Many protesters held "Middle Class Strong" signs. Middle Class Strong protects the rights of union and nonunion laborers. Coffins in front of the speaker's podium represent lives lost on the job. https://twitter.com/AffordabilityNY/status/675016785406595073 Real Affordability for All (RAFA), a coalition of affordable housing organizations in New York, pledged solidarity with workers protesting for fair wages. RAFA's advocacy underscores the connection between a living wage and housing access. The group's ongoing projects include proposing alternatives to the rezoning of East New York and other low-income neighborhoods. https://twitter.com/ALIGNny/status/675032433448873984 Public Advocate Letitia James, New York State Assembly Representative Francisco Moya, City Council majority leader Jimmy Van Bramer, and others spoke at the rally in support of the union's objectives. Developers, architects, and other builders, what do you think? Are the unions' demands fair? https://twitter.com/RoryLancman/status/675028656146751488 https://twitter.com/TishJames/status/675048530688503809
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Waffling on Walmart

The story surrounding plans for a new Walmart on Chicago's Far South Side keeps changing faster than the retailer's prices. Last week we noticed that its attempts to break into Brooklyn were eerily similar to those in the Windy City, though we failed to mention how the linchpin of the current argument, that no one would dare locate in Pullman, does not hold true in East New York, as the Gateway Center already has a Target and a few other big box stores. But according to the Chicago Reader, that may not be the case in Pullman either. The paper did the unthinkable and—gasp!—called up the other retailers who the local alderman said he contacted, including IKEA, Dominick's, and Jewel-Osco, to confirm that they had turned Alderman Anthony Beale down. None said that was the case, though a few said they could neither confirm nor deny. Walmart, however, remains undeterred, and the Sun-Times reports it has even gone to the unprecedented step of setting up a meeting with local labor leaders to try and broker a last minute deal that will save its plans for a South Side development from being scuttled yet again.
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Kingsbridge Conundrum

What to do with the Kingsbridge Armory, empty for more than two decades? That was the question the Related Companies answered with a proposal for a new mall, which was resoundingly rebuffed last year by the City Council, in part because that mall would have lacked union labor. The question of what to do with the mall was implicit in Related's offer, as well, the suggestion being that without the mall, the massive nearly 600,000-square-foot building would continue to sit empty for more decades. Well, Bronx Borough President Rueben Diaz, Jr., one of the pols that led the fight against the mall, thinks he has an answer of his own, as the Observer reports, or at least he hopes the taskforce he's appointed to come up with a solution does. As Diaz put it in a statement:
"My critics have challenged me to come up with something better for the Kingsbridge Armory, and I am prepared to answer that call. There are a number of different options besides retail that could eventually make their home in the armory, be it the expansion of the film industry, arts and recreation space, green manufacturing, or a combination of these and many other uses."
The taskforce itself is rather impressive, including big names like Majora Carter, an influential environmental consultant formerly of the Sustainable South Bronx, developer and political big wig Jack Rosen, Kathy Wilde, head of the pro-business Partnership for New York City. It'll be interesting to see what this influential group comes up with.
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Spire Sputters Again

According to Crain's Chicago Business, major construction unions will not be loaning funds to restart the Chicago Spire, as many had speculated. The union pension funds are feeling cautious, much like other lenders, so the Spire, which was always an ambitious project, remains a high risk bet. Who will the developers turn to next?
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Spire Revival

First reported in the Chicago Tribune, and today in the Wall Street Journal, officials at a group of union pension funds are vetting a plan to lend $170 million to restart construction on the stalled Chicago Spire. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the 150 story residential tower would be the tallest building in the US. The Journal piece points out that with a drastic drop off in condo construction downtown predicted for 2010 and 2011, the completion of the Spire could actually come at a time when there is pent up demand for housing. Blair Kamin previously pointed out that unions have made similar loans in previous downturns, notably providing loans for the construction of Marina City. According to the Journal, Chicago's failure to win the 2016 Olympics may have been the key to giving the Spire new life. The pensions had previously been looking to lend funds for the construction of the planned Olympic Village.