In a historic vote, crowdfunding platform Kickstarter has become the first major tech company to successfully form a union, with a narrow vote of 46 workers in favour and 37 against.
“This is the future of tech. Workers are organising around our values to build a stronger future,” Clarissa Redwine, a Kickstarter organiser who was fired in September, told Gizmodo. “I’m filled with boundless joy and pride. My former coworkers at Kickstarter deserve the power they just earned at the ballot box.”
Kickstarter began the process of organising over a year ago and went public with their intentions last March. In the interim, management refused to voluntarily recognise the union, organisers have been fired under unusual circumstances, and the company retained a law firm which advertised its skills at “union avoidance.” The sum total of that obstruction led to a National Labor Relations Board election, which today’s successful vote ratifies.
Kickstarter will now the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153 and begin the process of bargaining their first contract with management.
As the close vote suggests though, not all resistance to an organised workplace was strictly top-down. Shortly after announcing plans to unionise, a number of veteran employees circulated a memo which called the efforts a “misappropriation of unions for use by privileged workers,” a shockingly common belief. Despite pressure from without and within, Kickstarter United members are at the very tip of a more egalitarian movement that sees a union not just as a means of securing a measure of physical and economic safety, but seeks to cede greater control over a company’s purpose, culture, and hiring practices to the individuals that comprise it.
“Every worker at a company makes it what it is – from your community outreach people, to your customer support people, to the people running your facilities,” Dannel Jurado, a Kickstarter senior software engineer, wrote in a statement from OPEIU. “I’m overjoyed by this result. 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.”
His company’s track record of interference notwithstanding, Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan said in a statement, “We support and respect this decision, and we are proud of the fair and democratic process that got us here. We’ve worked hard over the last decade to build a different kind of company, one that measures its success by how well it achieves its mission: helping to bring creative projects to life. Our mission has been common ground for everyone here during this process, and it will continue to guide us as we enter this new phase together.”
What remains to be seen, even amid the unprecedented wave of worker action at major tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, others will take the same leapt to formalize their organizing efforts – a considerably more difficult task at firms of this scale. Thus far smaller pockets of workers – Facebook’s cafeteria workers, tech campus security guards, the Gimlet podcast group (now owned by streaming giant Spotify), or a single office of Google contractors – have gained union protections while these behemoths, even when rocked by mass walk-outs, have so far remained insulated.