Dezeen Magazine

550 Madison Lobby

Workers at Snøhetta's US offices vote against unionisation

Workers at the American offices of Norwegian architecture studio Snøhetta have voted against a motion to unionise.

Last week, the employees at Snøhetta's New York and San Francisco offices voted 35-29 against unionisation under the umbrella of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The decision is the result of a petition to unionise in May sent to the National Labor Review Board (NLRB), the US agency that oversees the multi-step unionisation practice.

"After a months-long campaign by the Machinists to unionize Snøhetta in the US, the majority of employees made it clear that they opposed this direction for our workplace," said a spokesperson for Snøhetta.

"We look forward to working together as one studio to continue building on our legacy of creativity and collaboration."

The vote included "all designers, architects, project leaders, and operations staff" and excluded management, partners, financial officers as well as executive assistants, accounting and human resource personnel, according to the NLRB, a standard breakdown in the process.

Margin "incredibly close"

"The margin was incredibly close, and just a few votes swung the result," said Architectural Workers United (AWU), an organisation that supports and educates about unionisation in the field, in an Instagram post.

"This is important, because while we did not announce it previously, the workers filed for an election with 70 per cent of eligible bargaining unit members having signed union authorization cards in support of a union."

According to AWU, Snøhetta's US management brought on law firm Stinson LLP during the campaign, which it said "ran a coordinated anti-union campaign leading up to the vote".

This claim contradicts earlier statements made by the studio's management.

"Snøhetta in the US supports our employees' right to seek self-determination," the studio told Dezeen in May.

"We look forward to working with this group to better understand what joining a union might mean for the firm, our culture, our business, and our entire team," it continued at the time.

If the vote had been successful it would have made Snøhetta the second private-sector firm in the United States to unionise, following Brooklyn-based Bernheimer Architecture, which unionised last autumn.

However, as management at Bernheimer Architecture had agreed to the decision – making it unnecessary to hold a vote – Snøhetta was the first union to have a federally recognised vote in a private-sector architecture studio in over 50 years, according to AWU.

Whereas the US now has only one private architectural firm with members in a union, Norway, where Snøhetta was founded, has the Norwegian Union of Architects (AFAG), which boasts 5,700 members. However, a spokesperson from the studio said that this body is "closer to the bar association than unions as we know them here".

"For example, AFAG does not negotiate on behalf of employees nor does it play a role in their studio," said the spokesperson.

"In fact, Snohetta in the US uses the same internal employee rep system as the Norway office, where employees elect representatives to advocate for their interests and get a seat on the board."

The outcome of Snøhetta's unionisation drive follows what is widely considered a decades-long move away from organised labour in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership amongst wage and salary workers was at 10.1 per cent in 2022, the lowest number on record.

Other architecture studios that have had campaigns to unionise include a movement among some workers at New York's SHoP Architects, though employees there did not garner enough support to bring their petition to a vote before the NLRB.

Cover photo of Snøhetta/Gensler renovation of Philip Jonhson's 550 Madison lobby is by Fred Charles.