Kickstarter Employees Unionize in Historic Move for Tech Industry

Google moves to ward off unionization

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek February 20, 2020

Employees at Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform based in Brooklyn, made history Tuesday when it voted to unionize, becoming one of the first tech companies in the U.S. to form a bargaining unit. It will be made up of 85 employees that include engineers, analysts, designers and customer-support specialists.

Unionizers explained in a memo last year that they want to "promote our collective values: inclusion and solidarity, transparency and accountability; a seat at the table," The Verge reported.

Aziz Hasan, Kickstarter's CEO, commented on the vote in a company blog Feb. 18:

"Today we learned that in a 46 to 37 vote, our staff has decided to unionize. We support and respect this decision, and we are proud of the fair and democratic process that got us here," he said. 

Contract workers in the tech sector have formed unions before—in September, 90 Google contractors joined forces with the United Steelworkers and in 2014, 38 contract workers who performed bug testing at Microsoft unionized with their employer, Lionsbridge. However, their jobs were eliminated a few years later.

The move to unionize is the latest example of activism by tech workers in the U.S. Last year, Google employees demanded more transparency from company leadership and protested the company's sexual harassment policy and its efforts to build a censored search engine in China. 

The company says it has, from its earliest days, supported employees speaking out. It urged employees to act like owners, speak up and participate in question-and-answer sessions with top executives. However, The New York Times reported Feb. 18 that over the last year, "Google has appeared to clamp down. It has gradually scaled back opportunities for employees to grill their bosses and imposed a set of workplace guidelines that forbid "a raging debate over politics or the latest news story." It has tried to prevent workers from discussing their labor rights with outsiders at a Google facility and even hired a consulting firm that specializes in blocking unions. Then, in November, came the firing of the four activists" who tried to stop the company "from doing work they saw as unethical." 

'Today we learned that in a 46 to 37 vote, our staff has decided to unionize. We support and respect this decision, and we are proud of the fair and democratic process that got us here.' 
-Aziz Hasan, Kickstarter's CEO

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Preparing for the Possibility of Union Organizing]

SHRM Online has collected the following articles on unionization and activism by tech workers:

Kickstarter Workers Vote to Form First Union in Tech Industry 

The historic vote comes amid growing discontent among employees at technology companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft. The vote follows a year and a half of internal organizing. Kickstarter United will now move to the bargaining table, and a committee of union members will sit across from the company's leadership and negotiate a contract to address the union's concerns, which include issues surrounding equitable pay, diversity in hiring and gaining a say in company decisions about how the platform is moderated.
(NBC News)  

Kickstarter Workers Vote to Unionize in Milestone Moment for Tech 

The workers will be affiliated with a chapter of the Office and Professional Employees International Union. The decision to unionize came after several months of conflict between the company and its workers, with two employees fired in September who say their termination was linked directly to their union organizing efforts. 

Company FAQ about Recent Events at Kickstarter 

This FAQ provides information about the unionization effort at Kickstarter from the perspective of the company's leadership. It was originally published on Sept. 27, 2019, and last updated Dec. 6, 2019.

2019 Was the Year Tech Workers Had Enough 

Rank-and-file staffers at giants such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft have banded together to push back on issues ranging from gender discrimination and climate change to questionable government contracts, worker retaliation and the use of forced arbitration. Altogether, there's a new sentiment among tech workers: their employers' power must be checked. 

Some Industries See an Increase in Unionization 

Union membership overall in 2019 was stagnant, but labor had gains in some industries, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show. Sommer Wiss, an attorney with Foley & Lardner in Boston, said there has been an increase in unionization in education. Watch for unionization to spread into growing industries, such as the technology sector, she said.
(SHRM Online)  

Google Contract Workers in Pittsburgh Vote to Form Union 

About 90 tech workers who are employed by the Indian outsourcing firm HCL America, but work on Google projects as contractors at Google's offices, voted 49 to 24 on Sept. 24, 2019, to unionize.
They affiliated with the United Steel Workers, a labor union born in Pittsburgh. The unionized workers are a small portion of the temps, vendors and contractors who make up an enormous "shadow" workforce at Google, outnumbering direct Google employees by around 135,000 to 115,000. 
(The Guardian)  

What We Learned from Over a Decade of Tech Activism 

The Guardian documented and analyzed the collective actions in the tech industry in a publicly accessible online database. Here are eight important insights. 

(The Guardian)



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