Is Union Organizing Among Tech Workers Ready to Breakout?
White-collar, high-tech workers at Kickstarter in Brooklyn have voted 47-36 for union representation by the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) in an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. (Five eligible voters did not vote.) The trailblazing win could inspire similar employees in the tech industry to channel their social activism and agitation for better working conditions to union organizing.
OPEIU is not the only union targeting the tech industry. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) has launched an industry-wide campaign to unionize workers in the video gaming and tech industries.
Employees at Kickstarter, which included highly paid software engineers, formed their own labor organization – Kickstarter United – and affiliated with the OPEIU. Kickstarter is privately held, but it is also a public benefit corporation. That means its business purpose is dual: achieving a return for investors and providing a benefit to the community. This can give workers a platform to advocate for change both inside and outside the traditional prerogatives of labor: wages, benefits, and conditions of employment. Indeed, the Kickstarter United’s website states that the organization’s goals are a blend of old and new worker issues:
- Pay inequities
- Diversity and inclusion in hiring, professional growth, and products
- Due process for discipline and performance reviews based on clear expectations and objective criteria
- Preserving a company culture that nurtures a sense of community
- Inclusion of workers in company decision making
One former Kickstarter employee-organizer said, “We wanted power in product decisions, certainty in the terms of our employment, and power to question management when needed.” A dispute between management and employees over the funding of a project for a satirical comic book called Always Punch Nazis originally prompted the organizing.
Employees at several high-tech companies have engaged in workplace walkouts and other activities to express their reaction to workplace issues, such as alleged sexual harassment, pay disparities, and working conditions. In addition, they also have spotlighted social issues like climate change and work with governments and fossil fuel companies. While the latter traditionally have not often been the basis for union organizing or topics of collective bargaining, they underscore a common theme of the labor movement since the 1880s: employees’ desire to have a meaningful a voice on matters important to them at work. High-tech employers – along with other employers – may want to catalogue the opportunities their employees have to provide meaningful input on issues of concern to their employees, both bread-and-butter concerns and socially conscious aspirations.