SHoP Architects Workers End Union Drive

reprints


Employees at SHoP Architects ended their union drive on Thursday, almost two months after they started the campaign.

Organizers said in December 2021 that more than half of eligible staffers signed union authorization cards, but wrote in a letter on Twitter that it had challenges retaining that support.

SEE ALSO: Friedland Properties Sues Zabar Family to Force Sale of Upper West Side Property

“Throughout the past year, the majority of our office was in support of these efforts, which propelled us forward,” the letter reads. “However, with no existing architectural union precedent in our country, we have seen how the fear of the unknown, along with misinformation, can quickly overpower individual imaginations of something greater than the status quo.”

The organizers had planned to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers to represent the company’s 135 staffers, some of whom complained of working 60 to 70 hours a week when deadlines approached and receiving wages — between $50,000 and $80,000 a year — that were too low for employees with student debt. 

But support for the union lost steam internally as some of the architecture and design firm’s leadership circulated a petition among employees to pull the vote, and clients threatened to stop working with the firm if its workers unionized, Curbed reported. SHoP disputes these claims. 

“The decision by the International Association of Machinists and the Architecture Workers United to withdraw their NLRB election petition reflects our staff’s clear desire to determine our collective future together as an employee-owned firm,” a spokesperson for the architecture and design firm said in a statement. “Any allegations of bad faith campaigning are unfounded and an attempt to undermine the strong majority of SHoP employees who made their views known.”

The firm had also switched to an employee-owned benefits plan — which gives staffers shares of the company, similar to models used by Gensler and  Zaha Hadid Architects — in March 2021, which appeared to provide an alternative to unionization. 

“After internal meetings and messaging from leadership, a number of SHoP employees have expressed a preference for an alternative way to address the issues that have been brought to light,” the letter reads. “We do not yet know what that will look like, and we do regret that pulling the petition removes the option to vote democratically, but we feel compelled to honor all voices and the current majority opinion.”

Among the issues the employees wanted a union to address was a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion at SHoP. After a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed George Floyd, employees began to advocate for salary transparency, larger hiring pools and a dedicated staffer working on firm diversity efforts. 

While SHoP itself offered workshops for employees on supporting, sustaining and building diversity, a round of surprise layoffs and disappointment in the workshops made some feel management was ignoring a need for substantive change, Curbed reported.

SHoP’s unionization efforts initially received support from workers and in academic settings, and a spokesperson for the union claimed when the campaign was announced that two other unnamed architecture firms were exploring their own union drive. A spokesperson for the union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We still believe in the capacity for unionization to make architecture more equitable, the profession more just, and our built environment more resilient,” the letter says. “We look forward to a day when our field is no longer deeply marred by burnout and exploitation, and architectural workers and firms possess the value that we so rightly deserve.”

Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from SHoP.

Celia Young can be reached at cyoung@commercialobserver.com.