Brooklyn, New York [Oct. 3, 2019] – Kickstarter management has refused its employees’ request for voluntary recognition of their union with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153, AFL-CIO, weeks after firing employees in response to their support for the union effort, a violation of longstanding U.S. labor law.
On Wednesday, Kickstarter United (KSRU) members approached management to ask for voluntary recognition of their union after a months-long campaign to organize employees at the crowdfunding company. Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan responded with an email to staff refusing the request for recognition, saying the company instead “supports” an NLRB election – a process notoriously skewed in favor of employers and against employees.
“It’s disappointing to see our leadership team publicly refuse, again, to recognize the majority support that Kickstarter United has built,” said a KSRU spokesperson. “Voluntarily recognizing our union is what’s best for the organization. It provides an opportunity to rebuild the trust our leaders’ actions have eroded with our creator and backer community. It validates the democratic process that is the signing of a petition to demand a union.
“Despite their insistence that they have remained neutral, our leaders’ actions have spoken louder than their words,” the spokesperson continued. “They have fired organizers. They have released an incredibly patronizing letter saying `unions are inherently adversarial.’ Refusing to grant us recognition is yet another example of our leaders refusing to hear and respect the voices of Kickstarter workers. It’s a shameful pattern that we need Kickstarter United in order to break.”
In May, Kickstarter management had declined to voluntarily recognize the union, preempting its employees’ official request for recognition. The company spent the ensuing months employing typical union-busting and intimidation techniques, including hiring a crisis-management public relations firm and firing two employees who served on the KSRU organizing committee.
In its official request for voluntary recognition, KSRU wrote it is prepared to demonstrate majority support for the union through a mutually agreeable neutral third party, and that “our goal is and has always been to create an environment of inclusion and solidarity; transparency and accountability; and representation for everyone at Kickstarter.”
In stark contrast to KSRU’s goals to ensure the union and management work together toward a mutually beneficial partnership for both employees and the company, in a statement to creators and backers Hasan described the “union framework” as “inherently adversarial.” This blatant obfuscation of KSRU’s goals is another page from the well-traveled anti-union playbook – used in office buildings, in retail stores, on the factory floor, in hospitals and other workplaces across the nation – that seeks to “otherize” employees courageous enough to publicly state their preference for union protection, even as management attempts to undermine and intimidate.
In justifying the decision to deny voluntary recognition, Hasan called attention to the company’s status as a “public-benefit corporation,” one that is legally obligated to consider all stakeholders, including staff, when making company policies.
In their request for voluntary recognition, and throughout the organizing process, KSRU members have demanded greater transparency when it comes to company policies, in line with the company’s status as a PBC; equality across gender and racial lines for all Kickstarter employees; and stronger job protections – a demand that became even more relevant in the wake of Kickstarter management’s firing of the two employees for their union activities.
“Forming our union has not been a quick or superficial process because we’ve intentionally set the bar high to maximize inclusion and make sure our co-workers who have demonstrated support have done so with eyes wide open,” KSRU’s request said. “Forming a union will provide workers and management with a framework for a more collaborative and accountable relationship and will be consistent with the values our backers and creators expect from the management of Kickstarter.”
Kickstarter management claims being publicly anti-union is proof the company is acting in “good faith.” At the same time, Kickstarter has actively pushed back against calls to voluntarily recognize the union – the single most democratic way to form a union, which still requires majority support – in favor of an NLRB election.
Several studies show NLRB elections are anything but fair and democratic. The NLRB election process is open to indirect manipulation by employers, who often use a wide array of tactics to disrupt what is, on paper, a democratic process. Employers routinely delay the election to continue, often illegally, pushing their anti-union message. This tactic leads many would-be union members to lose faith in the system that is admittedly, from top to bottom, skewed in favor of employers and against employees.
After management’s refusal to recognize the effort, employee organizers will continue the fight to win recognition and respect from management, and ultimately negotiate a mutually beneficial contract with the crowdfunding company. Kickstarter United has been affiliated with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), Local 153, AFL-CIO, since February.