Though small in numbers, the union carries symbolic weight. Waves of activism have coursed through the world of tech in the past few years but they have largely stopped short of union campaigns.
Kickstarter is a Brooklyn-based company that helps artists, designers, and writers crowdsource funding for creative projects, and its workers have gone much further than other tech firms by voting to unionize. The effort’s organizers have said they hope to be an example for other companies.
“The tech sector represents a new frontier for union organizing,” said Richard Lanigan, the president of the Office and Professional Employees International Union, “and OPEIU is excited to represent one of the first tech groups to successfully win collective bargaining rights and to be part of the labor movement’s efforts to improve the livelihoods of tech employees everywhere.”
The decision follows more than a year of charged emotions at Kickstarter as the staff began to organize.
The campaign was sparked in the months after managers made the decision to take down a funding page for a comic book, called “Always Punch Nazis” after it had been written about by the right-wing site Breitbart. Many staff members felt the company was folding in the face of political pressure.
But it grew contentious over the months, and the tension spilled into public view with the firing of two union organizers in September. The two employees filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that their rights as employees to organize had been violated.
The company denied that their dismissals had anything to do with their organizing activities, saying they were fired for performance issues. The NLRB complaint is pending.
The union campaign also generated fierce debate within the company’s staff. Two employees told The Washington Post in the fall that organizers’ aggressive tactics had felt like harassment to some workers at the office. The company’s leadership has defended the way it conducted business and treated its employees.
The dismissals drew a slew of news coverage after they were first reported by Slate.
Union proponents at the company said they hoped the union would give the staff more of a say in decisions about pay, hiring and discipline.
“Kickstarter employees felt their employer, a public benefit corporation, should live up to the foundational progressive values it espouses by ensuring trust and transparency from management, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, implementing more inclusive hiring practices and giving employees a voice in the decision-making process,” the union, Kickstarter United, said in a statement.
In a phone interview Tuesday, CEO Hasan said he always had a feeling it was going to be a close vote.
“I’m happy we’re in a place now where we have a resolution,” he said. “What we have now is certainty and I think that’s great.”
Hasan said he was looking forward to engaging the union on its concerns.
“This ultimately doesn’t change much for the company in terms of how we drive toward our mission,” he said. “I’ve seen, in the last 12 months, an exceptionally passionate group of people. For our mission, I’m really confident in the way we’ll move forward.”
Union participation, as a percentage of the American workforce, has declined for decades, to around 10 percent — about half of what it was 40 years ago.
But Kickstarter’s effort has raised hopes among certain tech workers that formal organizing could grow. In September, a group of nearly 80 contract workers opted to unionize at a Google office in Pittsburgh.
“It was truly an honor to get to have deep conversations with so many of my colleagues around these issues,” Oriana Leckert, a Kickstarter employee and spokeswoman for the union, said in a statement. “Utilizing our collective power to improve our workplace and our professional lives will increase Kickstarter’s ability to have a radical, positive impact on society by allowing us all to advocate for workers’ rights, which is a core pillar of the fight against inequality.”