August 4, 2020

Volume X, Number 217

August 03, 2020

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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.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020National Law Review, Volume X, Number 61


About this Author

Patrick Egan, Labor Law Attorney, Jackson Lewis, Boston Law Firm
Patrick L. Egan

Patrick L. Egan is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Mr. Egan works in traditional labor law.

He has assisted employers in all industries in all phases of union organizing campaigns. Mr. Egan has represented employers in card-signing efforts and representation and decertification campaigns. He has conducted union awareness and positive employee relations training for hundreds of companies and employer groups. He has also assisted dozens of employers to preempt, prepare for and defend against union corporate campaigning....

Richard F. Vitarelli Principal Jackson Lewis

Richard F. Vitarelli is a Principal in the Hartford, Connecticut, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Part of the firm’s national labor practice, he has over two decades of experience representing employers nationally in strategic labor relations, collective bargaining, and union organizing, including in the context of mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring and contract administration. He serves as general labor and employment counsel for employers and multi-employer associations in various industries, including construction, manufacturing, health care and senior living, airline, commercial laundry, transportation and distribution, state and local government.

Mr. Vitarelli's practice includes handling sophisticated collective bargaining matters, including national, multi-employer and industry agreements.  His practice also includes representation of employers in multi-employer benefits matters, including multi-employer pension withdrawal liability and Taft-Hartley Fund collection matters. His labor relations practice includes representation of employers covered by the National Labor Relations Act and the Railway Labor Act.

He regularly represents and advises clients in preventive labor relations and counter-organizing. For several years, he served as a managing author of the "Employer’s Guide to Union Organizing Campaigns" (Wolters-Kluwer/Aspen Publishers).

Before joining Jackson Lewis, Mr. Vitarelli served as practice group leader for a major regional firm, overseeing the labor, employment, benefits and immigration practice. He also served as outside general counsel to the Waterbury Connecticut Financial Planning and Assistance Board, a state takeover board created to restructure finances, labor agreements and post-employment benefits. He was a Commissioner of the Connecticut State Ethics Commission from 1997 to 2004 and served as Vice-Chair and Chair-Elect from 2002 to 2004.

While attending law school, Mr. Vitarelli was a member of the Suffolk Transnational Law Review.

Jonathan J. Spitz, Jackson Lewis Law Firm, Labor Employment Attorney, Atlanta

Jonathan J. Spitz is a Principal in the Atlanta, Georgia, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the firm’s Labor and Preventive Practices Group.

Mr. Spitz lectures extensively, conducts management training, and advises clients with respect to legislative and regulatory initiatives, corporate strategies, business ethics, social media issues and the changing regulatory landscape. He understands the practical and operational needs of corporate America, helping design pragmatic strategies to minimize risk and maximize performance. He has represented...