Anti-Union Kickstarter Employees Are Hep To The Social Justice Lingo!
Earlier this week, a group of Kickstarter employees announced their intent to unionize -- which is great! Everyone should unionize! Said employees, organizing with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153, did not express any particular grievances, primarily focusing on simply wanting to have a seat at the table with management and to "promote our collective values: inclusion and solidarity, transparency and accountability." Kickstarter itself did not openly oppose the idea and in fact issued a reasonably supportive response to their desire to unionize.
We're proud that everyone here at Kickstarter cares deeply about its mission and its future. We're aware that there are team members at Kickstarter who are interested in forming a union, and we look forward to hearing more about our employees' concerns.
That seems fine enough, right?
But as with everything, there's always a few people who are going to go and try to ruin a good thing. Thus, on Thursday, a group of Kickstarter employees, including Senior Manager of Creator Initiatives Lindsay Howard, Senior Software Engineer Pritika Nilaratna, and Senior Design and Tech Editor Katheryn Thayer, sent out a letter of their own to Gizmodo, explaining that they think Kickstarter is a nice place to work and therefore doesn't need a union, which they consider such an "extreme" method of addressing employee concerns.
Which is not to say that they are not hip and with it. They totally get what these cats are laying down here.
While we're politically aligned on the general tenants [sic] proposed by the union, we disagree with the interpretation that Kickstarter's culture isn't diverse and doesn't allow for opinions to be heard, that senior leadership doesn't offer a space for dialogue, and that pay isn't equitable in the company (pay information is publicly reported in the PBC report and the People team has established a formal review system). Furthermore, we feel we're owed more detail from the union organizers as to what their specific demands are and how a union will address them.
Some of our considerations as we examine this announcement: We believe this effort to unionize is the result of consistent issues with internal communications. We hope well-intentioned, good faith dialogue with executives and a specific list of issues from unsatisfied coworkers can get us to a better place. We want to give this a try before resorting to something as extreme as a union.
Bolding mine. Because unions are not "extreme" and they do not only need to be formed when a company is "bad" or workers are treated poorly or when there are specific grievances that need to be addressed. A union is a process, it's a way of doing things, of providing a bulwark against things going poorly for workers in the future. It's not a "punishment" for bad management or owners, it's a fairer way of doing things that actually makes things better for everyone involved.
Continuing their use of social justice lingo, Howard, Nilaratna, and Thayer explained that unions are fine for "marginalized" workers who don't have great jobs with great pay and benefits like those at Kickstarter do, and suggested that those at Kickstarter who are trying to form a union are "misappropriating" them.
Forming a union is a great tool—for marginalized workers. Unions are historically intended to protect vulnerable members of society, and we feel the demographics of this union undermine this important function. We're concerned with the misappropriation of unions for use by privileged workers, some of whom receive compensation more than twice the average income in NYC, in addition to flexible work from home hours, above-and-beyond industry standards for parental leave, 25+ days of paid vacation, a wellness stipend, a bike stipend, an education stipend, a weekly catered lunch, and a great deal of other benefits. We're already a radically thoughtful and ethical company with our PBC, and can do more to lead the way in the tech industry by providing an open environment that's free of hostility.
Those things are great!
But it's actually really important for workers everywhere for workers at non-terrible companies to form unions. One of the ways companies and management discourage unionization is by suggesting that having a union in the first place will make the company look bad and thus put all of their jobs at risk. If there's no "stigma" to unionization, if it's considered just a regular thing that workers everywhere do whether their jobs or companies are "bad" or not, they lose the ability to use that argument as a cudgel against unionizing workers. Particularly the "marginalized workers" that Howard, Nilaratna, and Thayer are so very concerned about.
Simply put, we need to get rid of the idea that unions form because companies are "bad," because that makes it harder for anyone anywhere to form a union.
The authors of the letter also utilized another classic union-busting threat -- that unionization could lead to everyone losing their jobs.
Kickstarter can fail. Our company is looking for funding to secure our financials, as we've heard in multiple All Hands communications. If we add a union into the mix, it could make it near impossible for Kickstarter to raise a round. Investors look at financials, mission, and employee sentiment. We owe leadership time to try to keep this all afloat, and we owe each other good faith efforts to make things work. All of our jobs, and our position as a cornerstone of the creative economy, are at risk. This is bigger than the 140 people on staff.
Ah, "employee sentiment." Because no one in the history of the world has ever had a non-union job that they hate or where they are treated poorly, right?
All in all, apart from all the talk about "privilege" and "misappropriation," there isn't much difference between this missive and this union-busting video Walmart employees were required to watch as part of their training.
Wal Mart Union Busting Employee Video www.youtube.com
It's understandable that the signatories of this letter have concerns, given the way people are taught to think about unions in this country, and they deserve to have those concerns addressed. We're not going to get much of anywhere in terms of workers' rights if we're not able to address these kinds of concerns, anyway.
That being said, if their concern is truly that "privileged" workers organizing a union is somehow harmful to "marginalized" workers also trying to form unions, they're going to need to explain exactly how and why, because there is no way that's true.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse