A rare union vote could change the architecture industry. Voting is now taking place on a potential union that will have a significant impact on the sector. Workers at the United States studios of the multinational architectural and design company Snøhetta are now debating whether or not to organize a labor union.
If it were to unionize, it would be only the second private architecture firm in the United States to do so. Snøhetta is a big and well-regarded design firm with 350 workers and nine locations, including studios in Oslo, New York, San Francisco, Australia, and Asia.
It is best known for its renovation of New York's Times Square and the iceberg-like opera house in Oslo. Other notable projects include the remodeling of the Sydney opera house. The industry as a whole is keeping a close eye on the vote for its union.
Workers at the United States-based studios of Snhetta submitted papers to the National Labor Relations Board in May to initiate the formation of a union and membership in the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
This organization represents workers at firms such as Boeing, United Airlines, and Harley-Davidson. The counting of votes will take place on July 7 and will take place in a few weeks since some of the ballots will be sent in via mail.
In a sector that has always been attacked from within for its excessively long hours, inadequate compensation, and high rate of job turnover, the vote to form a union is an extremely unusual occurrence. In spite of these dangerous working conditions, labor unions have been mostly absent from the sector for more than 80 years.
This decision follows closely on the heels of the formation of the very first architectural union, which took place at the Bernheimer Architects, a modest company located in New York City.
The founder of the firm, Andrew Bernheimer, voluntarily acknowledged the company's labor union in September, and negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement are now taking place between the company and its 22 employees at the moment.
Architectural Workers United is a new group that has established in conjunction with the International Association of Metalworkers of America (IAMAW) to give aid to employees at architectural businesses who are contemplating organizing unions. The goal of this partnership is to provide assistance to employees at architectural companies who are considering organizing unions.
The attempt to organize a union at another large New York architecture company, SHoP, which finally failed in February 2022 was the impetus for the formation of the group that would later bear its name.
But organizing campaigns proceeded in other places as well, and Architectural Workers United achieved a victory that legitimized their cause when Bernheimer Architects employees decided to create a union.
The union drive at Snøhetta is the first to go public since then; but, according to AWU organizer Andrew Daley, numerous additional drives have started throughout the nation since the announcement in May.
If the campaign to unionize the employees at Snøhetta is successful, it may open the way for more initiatives to unionize employees in the architectural and design industry as a whole, including at enterprises of varied sizes.