Graphic via Shutterstock / Courier Graphic via Shutterstock / Courier

Employees at the Brooklyn-based company are now the first white collar, full-time employees at a major tech company to successfully unionize.

The labor movement achieved a huge milestone on Tuesday when workers at the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter voted to form a union, becoming the first technology company of its kind to do so. 

In a 46-37 vote, Kickstarter employees voted to unionize. Their union, Kickstarter United, will now be represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153 and formally recognized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The vote came after a contentious 18-month battle with company management that, according to organizers, saw two employees fired for their role in the unionization effort. The company insists it never fired anyone for attempting to organize—which would be illegal—and said the employees were let go for performance-related reasons. 

NBC News reported that several other workers involved in the organizing efforts also left the company or were forced to resign after experiencing what they described as a hostile environment fostered by company management. 

Clarissa Redwine, a union organizer and former employee who was fired in September, celebrated Tuesday’s vote and emphasized the importance of forming a union. 

“What Kickstarter employees are organizing a union for is the agency to challenge management when management is failing the community,” Redwine told NBC News. “Workers want to be able to participate in critical product decisions without retaliation, to change how the company handles sexual harassment, how it addresses gender discrimination, and they want to take on future challenges with a healthy power structure.”

Workers at the Brooklyn-based company are now the first white collar, full-time employees at a major tech company to successfully unionize. Union leaders will now begin negotiating a contract to address their concerns, which include resolving existing pay disparities, clearer company policies surrounding the reporting of workplace issues, and more transparent mechanisms for hiring and firing employees.

Company management refused to voluntarily recognize the union, instead forcing employees to hold a formal vote. But Aziz Hasan, the CEO of Kickstarter, acknowledged the results of Tuesday’s vote.

“Yesterday we learned that in a 46 to 37 vote, our staff has decided to unionize,” Kickstarter’s CEO Aziz Hasan told COURIER in an emailed statement. “We support and respect this decision, and we are proud of the fair and democratic process that got us here.”

Since the NLRB generally recognizes unions based on similar sets of duties, organizers struggled to determine which workers at the company would be eligible to join the union. Ultimately, the company’s management and union representatives reached an agreement on who would be included in the bargaining unit. The union will represent 83 of the company’s 146 employees and include designers, writers, engineers, software developers, product managers and content moderators. 

Organizers took to Twitter to celebrate the successful vote, where they were also congratulated by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. 

Kickstarter United’s successful vote comes amidst a boom in labor organizing in the tech industry. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of protest actions led by tech workers nearly tripled and in 2019 alone, tech workers led more than 100 labor-related actions, according to the online database Collective Actions in Tech

These actions included Google workers walking out over the company’s internal policies surrounding sexual harassment and Microsoft and Amazon employees demanding their companies end contracts with local and federal government entities that conduct surveillance and immigration enforcement and deportation.

While these efforts have made headlines, none have led to the formation of unions. Tech companies have been historically slow to unionize due to the industry’s notoriously generous salaries and employee perks, Veena Dubal, a law professor at the UC–Hastings College of Law told NBC News.

“Tech company perks, like gourmet coffee, warm cookies, massage chairs or whatever, these things make people feel appreciated in the workplace,” Dubal said. “But when workers see that their concerns are not taken seriously, all the perks can feel like tools to keep people subdued.”

Because workers in the technology and gaming fields face their own unique set of challenges, the Communications Workers of America launched a new initiative in January specifically targeting these industries. The Campaign to Organize Digital Employees will “help tech and game workers reach the next level in their efforts to exercise their right to join together and demand change,” CWA president Chris Shelton said in a statement. 

Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives also passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act to strengthen workers’ rights and make it easier for employees to join a bargaining unit. Only 10% of American workers are members of a union. The Senate has not taken action on the historic legislation. 

Dannel Jurado, a senior software engineer at Kickstarter, hinted Tuesday that his new union’s success could prove to be a tipping point for labor organizing in the tech sector. 

“Technical workers in the industry are put on a pedestal until they are no longer necessary, but every worker at a company makes it what it is – from your community outreach people, to your customer support people, to the people running your facilities,” Jurado said in a statement. “I’m overjoyed by this result. There’s a long road ahead of us, but it’s a first step to the sustainable future in tech that I and so many others want to see.”