New York firm establishes architecture’s first union

Bernheimer Architecture cited “legacy of exploitation” in establishing standards

Bernheimer Architecture's Andrew Bernheimer (LinkedIn, Getty Images)
Bernheimer Architecture's Andrew Bernheimer (LinkedIn, Getty Images)

Employees at a small New York architecture firm executed a historic move amid signs of building interest for formal changes around the industry’s workplace standards.

The workers at Bernheimer Architecture announced the formation of a union on Thursday, the New York Times reported, in what is believed to be the country’s first private-sector union at an architecture firm.

The 22-member firm has voluntarily recognized the union, which places the architects with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Principal Andrew Bernheimer cited the industry’s “legacy of exploitation” as a partial impetus for supporting the move.

“I am of the opinion that one possible way for things to improve is for educators and professionals to show that they value the people who make all of our architecture happen,” Bernheimer told the Times.

The union is expected to push for shorter hours and better pay, two issues that have long plagued architecture firms. Bernheimer employees said they are paid fairly and given reasonable work hours, but are seeking to establish their value with clients and spark industry-wide conversation.

Employees at the firm will soon negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with Bernheimer.

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The effort to unionize at Bernheimer comes months after a failed union push at an even bigger firm in the city. Employees at SHoP Architects dropped their effort to unionize in February, days ahead of an important vote.

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The employees who tried to unionize cited a “powerful anti-union campaign” in giving up the fight. A spokesperson for the firm endorsed the move to stop the union push, but the company didn’t specifically respond to reports associate principals circulated anti-union petitions and clients threatened to cease work with the company should the union be formed.

The spokesperson did say “any allegations of bad faith campaigning” were “unfounded.”

Unionization efforts at SHoP and Bernheimer both started roughly two years ago. While SHoP’s union proved unsuccessful, it did prompt a handful of other architects to start a union movement at their own firms.

— Holden Walter-Warner