Verona, Wis., local says it's time to unionize Epic

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In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis — in which the majority sided in favor of large corporations — some are now calling on Epic employees to unionize, writes journalist Alan Talaga in an op-ed for the local newspaper, Isthmus.

The case called into question the terms of employment arbitration agreements after a former employee sued the Verona, Wis.-based EHR vendor for overtime pay. Epic and its two co-petitioners argued their individual arbitration contracts, which bar employees from joining together in class-action lawsuits, do not violate federal labor laws. The high court agreed.

The decision, penned by Justice Neil Gorsuch, established that companies have a right to resolve labor and wage disputes individually and use arbitration clauses to do so. Employers are only required to recognize collective action if the employees belong to a labor union.

The ruling affects millions of employees across the U.S., making it harder for  individuals to take action against wage theft, a sexual harassment and other safety concerns, Mr. Talaga writes. But, Mr. Gorsuch's opinion opens the door to unionization.

"For these tech workers, who may not have thought about unions as a means to have a say in the workplace, this particular ruling could get them looking at organizing and unionizing for the very first time," Kevin Gundlach, president of the South Central Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, told Mr. Talaga.

Unions aren't yet popular among tech companies, but  the need is there, Mr. Talaga writes

"While pay for full-time work in tech is generally pretty good, many workers are kept on low-paying, temporary contracts. Without unions, employees are often pushed to work extreme overtime hours. Short-term contracts and long hours mean employees burn out quickly," adding that this creates a constant rotation of employees who don't organize.

Unions are growing increasingly popular at digital media companies, such as Vox Media, which unionized in January. Similarly, they are slowly fulfilling their promises at tech behemoths, like Google, where, after employees took collective action against a contract Google had to develop artificial intelligence for the U.S. Defense Department, the company announced it would not renew its deal.

Epic may be well poised to "lead the fight for worker power," Mr. Talaga writes.

"For one, it shouldn’t be too hard to convince Epic’s workers that the company doesn’t always have their best interests in mind. Going all the way to the Supreme Court just to avoid paying some overtime is a pretty good example of that," the op-ed reads. "More importantly, Epic is the only major tech employer in town ... As Epic employees get older, start families and lay down roots in Madison, they’ll be faced with fewer options to change lanes in their career than they’d have in those larger markets. Thus, they have incentive to fight for stronger working conditions at the lone 800-pound gorilla of online medical records."

Click here to read Mr. Talaga's complete op-ed.

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