By Demi Hanes, Trüpp.

Kickstarter recently announced that it would be unionizing, making it the first-ever tech company to unionize white collar workers. The historic decision was approved by a vote of 46 to 37 and could change the tech industry forever. The company released a statement to TechCrunch stating:

“We support and respect this decision, and we are proud of the fair and democratic process that got us here,” (CEO Aziz) Hassan writes. “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.”

Unions are not a new concept, why is this unique?

Traditionally speaking, unions were established to protect the “little guy” and ensure safe and fair working conditions for blue collar workers. While the Office and Professional Employees International Union already represents over 100,000 white-collar workers; this move is a first for a US technology company.

Kickstarter has experienced growing tensions between management and employees that started in 2018. There was a disagreement over a decision to remove a project called “Always Punch Nazis” from the Kickstarter site. Employees complained that then-CEO Perry Chen’s management style, was heavy-handed.

In September of 2019, Kickstarter fired two employees and eliminated the position of a third who had been working to organize the union. The two fired workers filed federal unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), claiming the company retaliated against them for union organizing in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

A series of incidents occurred inside the organization pushing employees to want more of a say in the actions and policies of the company. [read more >>]

A shift in the tech-industry landscape

The Guardian collected data from the last year and developed these eight insights into what’s currently happening in the tech industry.

  1. Tech worker collective actions are growing exponentially: Over 100 were publicly reported.
  2. Precarious workers, such as warehouse pickers and rideshare drivers, are leading the fight in the tech workers movement.
  3. Full-time and white-collar tech workers are becoming more active.
  4. Full-time/white-collar workers and more precarious workers are fighting for different things. The grievances vary from discrimination, to job security, to working conditions, and more.
  5. Full-time/white-collar workers and more precarious workers are fighting in different ways. White-collar workers tend to send letters to management, while precarious groups are going on strike.
  6. But their struggles are connected. Both sides are still fighting for decent working conditions, pay equality, and social issues.
  7. Amazon and Google are the main targets of tech activism with the largest number of actions from their employees over the past 13 years.
  8. Solidarity among different groups of tech workers is crucial for the movement.

What this means for employers in the tech industry?

Unionizing has become a growing trend among technology organizations such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft due to internal concerns over sexual harassment, ICE contracts, and even carbon emissions. From 2017 to 2019, the number of tech-worker protesters has almost tripled. Last year they led more than 100 protests.

Over the past year, among blue collar workers at technology companies we’ve seen:

  • 80 Google contractors in Pittsburgh vote to form a union
  • 2,300 cafeteria workers at Google in Silicon Valley vote to form a union
  • About 40 Spin e-scooter workers in San Francisco voted to form a union
  • 15 employees at Instacart in Chicago voted to form a union

Even though these unions are not based on the same issues as traditional unions, the employees are still unionizing for workplace issues that matter to them. Employees want to work for organizations that they believe in and share similar values.  The issues are no longer just about wages and insurance, but now encompass racism, equality, and having a say in the decision-making process.

What can you do as an employer if your employees start to campaign for a union?

If you notice or suspect that employees in your organization are looking to unionize, it is important to know how to respond appropriately. Be sure your leadership and managers are aware of these best practices to avoid conflict or potential legal risk.

What you can share:

  • Factually correct information about the positive aspects of your work environment. This can include wages, benefits, policies, and perks.
  • Your own personal opinions and experiences working with unions.
  • Examples of the downsides of belonging to a union such as strikes, loss of jobs, out-of-touch leadership, poorly negotiated contracts, etc.

What you should avoid:

  • Threats intended to coerce employees not to vote for a union. These threats can include cutting wages and hours, laying off or terminating employees involved, or shutting down or moving operations.
  • Questioning employees about their views or the views of their co-workers regarding unions.
  • Making promises in exchange for information or as an incentive to vote against a union. This can include extra pay, better working conditions, overtime, promotions, etc.
  • “Spying” on employees’ union activities. For example, going to a union meeting or place where a meeting will be held or asking other employees to act as a “spy” on your behalf.
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