Kickstarter Workers Form First Union in Tech Sector

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

February 26, 2020

Workers at Kickstarter, the online crowdsourcing tech company, have won an election to be represented by a union. This marks the first successful union organizing drive at a large tech company. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certified the results of the election on February 18.

The employees, who organized under the name Kickstarter United, will be represented by Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153. The 85 employees who make up the bargaining unit hold a range of company positions, from engineers to analysts and designers to customer support specialists.

"Technical workers in the industry are put on a pedestal until they are no longer necessary, but 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," said Daniel Jurado, a Kickstarter senior software engineer. "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 United started its unionization drive in March 2019, stating that its goals included:

  • Equitable compensation;
  • Diversity and inclusion in hiring and professional growth opportunities;
  • Due process and transparency in the disciplinary process;
  • Consistent reviews and objective performance metrics;
  • Clear policies that are consistently and equitably applied; and
  • Inclusion of employees in company-wide decisions.

Management declined to voluntarily recognize the union, instead opting to require an NLRB-conducted election. During the union campaign, the company also fired two employees who were active in the organizing effort. Kickstarter stated that the terminations were due to poor performance and not related to the employees' unionizing work. It pointed out that 14 of 15 employees who publicly supported the union received a raise, a promotion or both during the same review cycle. Unfair labor practice charges over the firings were filed with the NLRB and are still active.

Workers in the technology industry have engaged in more concerted activities in the past few years for issues such as sexual harassment and corporate transparency. For example, Google changed its policies after employees staged a worldwide walkout in 2018 over news that the company had paid an multimillion dollar exit package to an executive who had been credibly accused of sexual harassment.

"The tech sector represents a new frontier for union organizing," said OPEIU president and Local 153 business manager Richard Lanigan in a statement. "OPEIU is excited to represent one of the first tech groups to successfully win collective bargaining rights and to be part of the labor movement's efforts to improve the livelihoods of tech employees everywhere."