Employees of the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter voted to unionize, the first prominent tech company to be represented by organized labor. The vote came down to a narrow margin of 46 employees voting in favor of the move and 37 opposing it. The union debate had been a source of tension at the company for some time.
- What can employees expect in terms of wages and benefits by shifting to a union-led model in working with the company’s management team? As a CEO, how would you engage in this new labor model?
- How will the employee voice change in a union-based approach? Will the union lead on social issues, like climate change, or will employees still sign petitions, etc.?
- With the rise of employee activism and interest in unionizing tech companies, how should business leaders better engage employees on internal issues and external social and environmental issues?
- “I’m overjoyed by this result,” said Dannel Jurado, a Kickstarter senior software engineer who voted for a union. “There’s a long road ahead of us, but it’s a first step to the sustainable future in tech that I and so many others want to see.”
- Kickstarter’s employees will be affiliated with the Office and Professional Employees International Union and begin negotiating a contract with management over equal pay and inclusive hiring practices.
- Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan tells The Verge that he doesn’t see the vote “changing the mission or vision” of the company. He didn’t have a sense of timeline for when a contract might be established, and he also wouldn’t speak about what the union means for the tech industry at large.
This is significant for the technology industry, as workers have been increasingly activist on issues like sexual harassment, climate change, and companies working with government entities. Google and Amazon have struggled with employee relationships that have resulted in staged walkouts and employees organizing to get their employers to stop activity they view as unethical.
Workers at Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce and GitHub have organized to demand their employers drop contracts with local and federal government agencies that engage in police surveillance and immigration enforcement and deportation.
The catalyst for the Kickstarter union was in August 2018 during an internal debate about a comic book called “Always Punch Nazis.” Conservative news website Breitbart accused Kickstarter of violating its terms of service for approving a fundraiser for the comic book.
Breitbart argued that the book, described as an “anthology about our country’s battle against racism,” violated Kickstarter’s rule barring projects that encourage violence.Kickstarter employees who reviewed the comic book project decided it did not violate company guidelines, but management disagreed and decided to pull the fundraiser from the platform. Workers grew concerned that their bosses were giving in to demands from far-right trolls.
Eventually, management reversed its decision and let the comic book fundraiser remain. But the company’s approximately 150 staff started discussing the possibility of starting a union.
Kickstarter United went public with its organizing drive in March 2019.
The employees, under the name Kickstarter United, announced plans to unionize last March. At the time, the organizers said they wanted a union to “promote our collective values: inclusion and solidarity, transparency and accountability; a seat at the table.” Kickstarter’s corporate side pushed back against the union, however, and required a vote, rather than voluntarily recognizing the unit. The company argued that managers had been inappropriately involved in the organizing process and therefore a vote was needed.
Veena Dubal, an associate professor of employment law at the University of California, called the Kickstarter vote “a hugely important step” that “signals to workers across the tech industry that it is both desirable and possible to build collective structures to influence wages, working conditions and even business decisions.”