Kickstarter Employees Vote to Unionize in a Big Step for Tech

Kickstarter, which was founded in 2009 and has raised less than $15 million in venture capital, gives people a way to raise money for their creative projects — such as a film or a new gadget — from the public instead of through traditional investors, a model known as crowdfunding.

The privately held company, which is based in Brooklyn and has 145 employees, has long positioned itself as altruistic. In 2015, it reincorporated as a public benefit corporation, meaning its primary focus was to provide a benefit to society rather than to generate revenue.

Its employees’ unionization drive began last year, after Kickstarter found itself embroiled in a debate over whether to cancel a fund-raising effort on its site for a comic book that included images of people punching Nazis. Workers pushed the company to allow the project to continue, which it did. The episode sparked discussions among employees about formalizing their voice in the workplace.

The incident “was one moment in a line of events that prompted Kickstarter employees to organize,” Clarissa Redwine, a former organizer at the company, said in an email on Tuesday. “We wanted power in product decisions, certainty in the terms of our employment, and power to question management when needed.”

Last March, employees began trying to organize a union. Some colleagues dissented, arguing that organizers had not been transparent about their efforts and questioning whether white-collar tech workers could benefit from a union. They said they were already highly paid and received more benefits than the average worker.

One employee, who opposed the union effort and who asked not to be named because some dissenters had been harassed online, said Kickstarter pays well and that some employees worried a contract might hamper them from engaging freely with leadership. It was also unclear whether a union would give employees sway over business decisions since traditional union contracts cover wages and hours, not corporate strategy.

In September, Kickstarter fired two of the organizers behind the union attempt, including Ms. Redwine. The organizers said the company was retaliating and filed claims with the National Labor Relations Board. Their cases have not been resolved.

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