What tech workers can learn from Kickstarter United – Business Insider UK


  • Lead organizers from Kickstarter United, the country’s first white-collar tech union, shared their biggest takeaways from the process of forming a union.
  • Grace Reckers, an organizer with the Office and Professional Employees International Union who helped Kickstarter employees unionize, advised tech employees to start small, simply by talking to your fellow employees. After getting a group together, shop around to find the right local union chapter.
  • She also warned that the company will likely retaliate, as Kickstarter fired two organizing employees during the bargaining period.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

US workers are feeling a shift in power, and starting to take action.

Both 2018 and 2019 saw more workers go on strike than any year since the 1980s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employees at tech companies — once widely trumpeted as the “best places to work” — were among those holding walkouts and signing petitions against their bosses.

In February, employees at the crowdfunding company Kickstarter organized the country’s first union of full-time tech workers at a major company in the space.

Business Insider spoke with two insiders at Kickstarter United, the company’s union, to see how they powered through the process. They said forming a union is not for the faint of heart, but the benefits are definitely worth it, and it’s not as scary as you think.

Grace Reckers, an organizer with the Office and Professional Employees International Union who helped Kickstarter employees unionize, shared some takeaways she learned from helping form the union, while Kickstarter employee, and union member, Oriana Leckert, also gave tips over email.

Their tips include learning how to spot an employee that may be interested in organizing, and understanding what power your employers have over you:

1. Don’t be afraid to have tough conversations.

The first step to organizing is to have a conversation.

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At Kickstarter, Leckert and other employees began organizing by having “large and small” conversations in which they shared their concerns and fears regarding the company with each other. These one-on-one conversations soon turned into regular meetings and strategy sessions that led to their decision to form a union.

Tech workers have a slightly unique position in the bargaining world, Reckers said. Full-time tech employees tend to be compensated well and get access to company perks, but they want control over the products they create.

Dissent at Kickstarter went up a notch after the company removed a fundraising campaign involving an anti-Neo Nazi comic book, following negative press from right-wing outlet Breitbart. Employees said the company’s decision violated freedom of speech.

And because tech workers haven’t been on the picket line before, Reckers said, they tend to be scared to have conversations in fear of rustling feathers at the company. But nothing will change without having a conversation, she said.

“Whenever tensions arise in a workplace due to organizing activity, it’s not because you’re doing something wrong, it’s because people in power feel that their authority is being threatened,” Reckers said. “A lot of people are scared of starting the union conversation because they’re worried about creating divisions in their workplace. But when that happens, it means progress is being made and issues are actually being addressed. If you don’t engage in those conversations, everything stays as is, and the company continues to engage in behaviors employees don’t support.”

2. Reach out to employees outside of work.

Reckers said one way to spot an employee who may be interested in organizing is to pay attention to which workers express dissatisfaction at companywide meetings. Pay attention to which workers might feel frustrated by the employer, and ask to talk about their feelings.

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Leckert suggested reaching out to people outside your individual team, noting that Kickstarter has union members in every team at the company.

“It was an honor to get to have deep conversations with colleagues whom we otherwise might not have had an opportunity to talk to,” Leckert added. “The organizers wound up being a real cross-section of the company, with people from nearly every department, working all different kinds of jobs, coming from all different backgrounds.”

When reaching out to fellow employees, Reckers said to start by building relationships during non-work hours and off company platforms such as Slack or e-mail.

Prior to unionizing,  Kickstarter’s employees had communicated mostly over the secure, encrypted messaging chat Signal during non-work hours. They met offsite, and used personal emails and phone numbers to communicate, Leckert said.

3. Weigh your options on what kind of organization you want to build.

After deciding to organize, Kickstarter employees interviewed with a couple different unions in the area before deciding on OPEIU and working with Reckers. The group quizzed organizing groups on who they represented and former contracts they had bargained for until they found a good match. 

Aaron Petcoff, an organizer for Tech Workers Coalition, a volunteer-based support group for employees interested in organizing, suggested that interested workers start by getting as much information as they can about organizing. TWC helps guide rank-and-file tech workers through the labor organizing process through workshops, meetings, and advising. 

For background on how unions operated in the past, Petcoff suggested reading Labor Notes, an organizing media outlet that also hosts workshops and conferences.

4. Understand that there will likely be retaliation.

Forming the country’s first tech union didn’t happen without a fight. 

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Over the course of a yearlong negotiation, Kickstarter fired two organizing employees, Taylor Moore and Clarissa Redwine. The company denied that it fired any employees because they were involved in unionizing, but OPEIU filed an unfair labor complaint to the US National Labor Relations Board.

The NLRB grants employees the right to form a union. But unfortunately for workers, US federal employment law allows employers to fire anyone without reason, a system known as “at-will employment.” As long as you aren’t fired because of your race, gender, or religion, employers can legally fire you at any time. 

Many companies that sense organizing activity among employees hire anti-union consultancies or law firms quell unrest. Google, for instance, has hired the consulting firm IRI Consultants, which has helped hospitals avoid union elections. Late last year, the tech giant fired four employees that had attempted to organize a union

“It was constantly something we said, ‘We know this is hard, we know this is a risk,'” Reckers said of her time organizing with Kickstarter United. “Even though you’re legally allowed to organize, [the employer] is going to find loopholes. But this is how you ultimately protect yourself.”

5. Build upon momentum.

Reckers said she is ultimately excited about the future of tech worker organizing. Neither she nor Petcoff revealed what other companies they are helping organize. Both pointed to activity like California’s decision to make Uber and Lyft drivers full-time employees as signs the movement is gaining steam.

“[Kickstarter United] would not have happened had we not had the support from all of these groups online who have been standing up for workers and showing that we’re behind folks and that we’re going to keep pushing,” Reckers said.





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