Kickstarter is first major tech start-up to unionise


Employees of crowd-funding platform Kickstarter PBC showed up to a freshly-unionised workplace on Wednesday after an historic vote establishing a “beachhead” for organised labour in the tech sector.

Workers at the Brooklyn-based firm voted 46 to 37 to unionise in a first for major internet firms long known for providing generous pay and perks to employees.

 

“We are a union,” Kickstarter United, which was a voice for the union effort, tweeted in a message on Tuesday.

“And to all tech and creative workers looking to fight for your rights, this is only just the beginning.”

Kickstarter workers will be affiliated with a New York City local of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU).

“I congratulate the workers of Kickstarter, the first major tech company to vote for a union,” tweeted Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who is vying to be the Democratic Party contender in November’s US presidential election.

“These workers are setting an example for the entire industry.”

The OPEIU last year adopted a resolution to organise tech sector workers, citing an “astronomical increase” in interest in unionising.

 

The union noted protests or petitions by employees at Amazon, Google and video game studio Riot Games as signs that tech company workers are uniting to challenge decisions or conditions they find unacceptable in workplaces.

“Engineers, web designers, programmers, developers and other tech workers are seeking a seat at the table to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment,” OPEIU delegates said in the resolution.

Google workers have protested handling of sexual harassment complaints and vying for contracts with the US military. Amazon workers called on the company to do more to combat climate change.

Employees fired by Google late last year were dubbed the “Thanksgiving Four” on social media in an incident that highlighted deepening tensions at the firm, which said the workers violated data security policies.

But Google was accused of persecuting them for trying to unionise staff.

The Kickstarter union certified by the National Labour Relations Board provides a blueprint for tech workers keen to organise, according to analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group.

“This is going to open the door to unionisation. Now, people see you can do it.

“It is in the union’s best interest to go out and recruit now that they have a beachhead,” he said.

He considered Amazon and Google as prime territory for unions since employees at both businesses have openly challenged management practices or decisions.

“Unions are not just about salaries and perks, they are about preventing abuses – like harassment and incredible overtime. They are for workers to address global issues without being called out by management,” Enderle said.

While engineers and designers might receive compensation envied by other professions, jobs can come with intense expectations and seemingly endless hours.

Also, tech company workers living in places such as Silicon Valley, where housing and other costs have rocketed, are seeing top executives reap lavish compensation, Enderle said.

California Labour Federation spokesman Steve Smith saw the Kickstarter union as reflecting a national trend among tech workers.

Issues from lengthy work weeks to discrimination and sexual harassment have bubbled in the sector for years, Smith said.

Workers increasingly feel their “only response is standing together in a union” so that they can have a collective voice and can fight back, he said.

US government statistics show that 10.3 per cent of US workers belonged to unions last year, down from 20.1 per cent in 1983.