Architecture, Leadership, Interview, Q/A, Climate Change, Unionization, Workforce, Employment, Employees, Green New Deal, Labor Unions
The Architecture Lobby
The relationship between the business of architecture and the nature of architectural work is fraught. Many celebrated firms have been built on the backs of young and often unpaid labor. To call this practice an open secret would be inaccurate. It isnâ€™t a secret at all; for some firms, itâ€™s standard operating practice.
The Architecture Lobby, founded in 2013 by Peggy Deamer, has begun the long and laborious process of addressing these issues. Today, the group has 16 chapters and 450 dues-paying members. (Yearly dues amount to 0.2% of total income, or about $100 for a $50,000 salary.) Recently, I spoke with the Lobbyâ€™s national organizer, Dexter Walcott, about the groupâ€™s recent efforts, its campaign to unionize the field, the Green New Deal, and the future of work.
MCP: Martin C. Pedersen DW: Dexter Walcott
MCP: Whatâ€™s the Lobby working on right now?
DW: The top three initiatives are the unionization campaign, the socializing of small firms, and the Green New Deal campaign. Weâ€™re also working to expand the â€śNot Our Wallâ€ť campaign to focus on the detention infrastructure, beyond the physical barriers and surveillance infrastructures.
MCP: So there are both national and local Lobby initiatives?
DW: Yes. There are chapters that are working on issues that are purely local. And then some chapters blur a lot, where there will be a national campaign that has a strong presence in our regional chapters. The â€śNot Our Wallâ€ť campaign, for instance, had a strong presence in the California chapters. The Green New Deal is a national campaign, but the New York chapter has a very strong presence with that.
MCP: Letâ€™s pull a few of these issues out for closer examination, starting with union recognition. Whatâ€™s your goal here, and how do you see that playing out?
DW: The end goal is to form unions of architectural workers. There are a number of ways that it can play out. One type of union we organize would be a single-issue union, where we would begin to organize architectural workers around a single problem within the profession and organize workplaces to form collective bargaining units around that issue. For instance, something like the eight-hour workday would be appealing in the profession. That covers a lot of the issues with one broad stroke, whether itâ€™s the culture of overwork or the inability of people to have time to take care of themselves or their families outside of the profession. We could organize workplaces under a contract that only has one clause in it that would say, â€śWeâ€™re going to work for eight hours, five days a week.â€ť Thatâ€™s something that is appealing to the Architectural Lobby at the moment. And itâ€™s so necessary in the profession right now.
MCP: Is your goal to go through the actual process of becoming a legally recognized union?
DW: Not necessarily. Weâ€™re more interested in helping workers build collective bargaining units. At the end of the day, the Lobby isnâ€™t so concerned about being the legal entity. We want to see the sector have unions. The unionization working group has put together an amazing pamphlet on the steps to do this.
MCP: So some chapters might, ultimately, be purely local?
DW: Yes. Right now weâ€™re organizing ourselves and trying to understand where the organization has power, and where we can leverage that power. It starts with a belief that we need to get tight around an argument, if weâ€™re going to start organizing other people to commit to it. We donâ€™t want to build an organization that just brings together like-minded people. We must become good at winning contentious arguments. You canâ€™t organize a workplace by assuming, â€śOh, everyone who already thinks like me will automatically join my group.â€ť You have to engage in discussions with people who say, â€śI donâ€™t think unions are going to help our industryâ€ť; or ask questions like, â€śWill that cut my pay?â€ť; or say, â€śMy boss is really good to me right now.â€ť
Itâ€™s also important to have conversations with people about preserving things that are good about the profession. We need to reinforce the idea that unions arenâ€™t just for times when everythingâ€™s falling apart, but are a way to ensure that things stay great and can get better. But the Lobbyâ€™s core position is