The staff of Kickstarter announced plans to unionize today. If recognized, Kickstarter would be the first major tech company with union representation in the United States.
Members of the union, which goes by Kickstarter United, say they want to improve inclusivity and transparency at the company. To unionize, they’re working with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153. In a statement, the union said:
Kickstarter United is proud to start the process of unionizing to safeguard and enrich Kickstarter’s charter commitments to creativity, equity, and a positive impact on society. We trust in the democratic process and are confident that the leadership of Kickstarter stands with us in that effort. Kickstarter has always been a trailblazer, and this is a pivotal moment for tech. We want to set the standard for the entire industry. Now is the time. Come together. Unionize.
In a world of Facebook and Twitter, Kickstarter feels almost quaint in its mission — “to help bring creative projects to life” — and in its charter as a public benefit corporation, which means that the company is “obligated to consider the impact of their decisions on society, not only shareholders.” Its staff unionizing means the company will also have to consider more seriously its responsibilities to its employees. It also means that its fellows in Silicon Valley and beyond could be next. Kickstarter is fundamentally a tech company, and its staff unionizing with the OPEIU shows a way forward for other employees in the space.
The nascent union said as much in a memo sent out to the staff today, and The Verge has obtained a copy. Kickstarter’s staff is unionizing because they want to “promote our collective values: inclusion and solidarity, transparency and accountability; a seat at the table,” the organizers write, noting that in the decade that Kickstarter has been around, it’s democratized crowdfunding and brought more than 150,000 projects to life. “Kickstarter’s efforts are incomplete, and these values have failed to manifest in our workplace. We can do better together — for ourselves and our industry.”
Kickstarter staffers say they chose the OPEIU because of its approach to organizing, its experience domestically and internationally, and its diversity of members. As the union organizers mention, OPEIU supports “everyone from helicopter pilots to researchers.” At Kickstarter, all employees, aside from senior management, will be eligible to join the union.
At the moment, none of the major tech companies have a unionized workforce. In the last year, employees at Google and Microsoft have begun to agitate collectively to end sexual harassment and their companies’ respective involvements in the military-industrial complex and overseas censorship. Employees at Amazon and Salesforce have also implored their executives to stop selling technology to the US government.
America’s political climate is changing; among other things, the 2016 presidential election brought up the issue of wealth inequality in this country and made people consider more closely the structural forces that define class here. That awareness helped other industries that were not traditionally associated with union membership consider joining — including staffs at digital media companies like Vox Media, for example, which The Verge is a part of — as the precarity of the American economy for knowledge workers has become more evident.
“The goal of our union is to have a formal seat at the table to negotiate with management,” the Kickstarter Union organizers write in their email to staff. “We’re negotiating to promote our collective values, and ensure Kickstarter is around for the long haul. We care about preserving what’s great about Kickstarter and improving what isn’t.”