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Kickstarter becomes first well-known tech company to unionize

Workers at the crowdfunding site Kickstarter voted to unionize on Tuesday. The vote is a major victory for employees at the company who allege management aggressively discouraged unionization and even fired employees for organizing the union effort.

The 46 to 37 vote makes Kickstarter the first well-known technology company to unionize, The New York Times reports.

The idea to unionize was sparked in 2018 after a Kickstarter campaign for a satirical comic book titled "Always Punch Nazis" attracted the attention of Breitbart news, Slate reports. The conservative website accused Kickstarter of violating its terms of service to not incite violence by promoting the comic book.   

Kickstarter management took down the campaign, despite the fact that it had already been approved by their Trust and Safety team, the company's judicial branch, according to Slate. Many employees were angered by the decision to pull the page, seeing it as a capitulation to the alt-right, former Kickstarter employee Taylor Moore told Jacobin, a socialist magazine, last year.

"... The project may be satire, it may not be satire, I don't think it matters. What matters is are we as a community going to make a decision that helps the white nationalists and the neo-Nazi press machine, or are we going to stand against it?" Moore told Jacobin.

Executives later reversed their decision after a company-wide meeting where employees expressed their anger. Some employees, however, were concerned that a similar incident could occur again if workers at the company were not unionized, according to Moore.

"I was really angry. Many of us were. After that meeting was the first time I said the word 'union,'" Moore told Jacobin.

Management pushed back against any union sentiment "from the beginning," according to Moore. He told Jacobin that the company "cast doubt and skepticism on the idea," but was "very careful not to appear to take a stance."

Kickstarter denied that it discouraged unionization. "Throughout this process, Kickstarter's leadership has supported the staff's right to decide if a union would benefit them — working with union organizers to lay the groundwork for a fair election, move the process along quickly, and give all of our eligible staff members the space to make this choice for themselves," the company said in a statement to CBS News.

Moore also alleged that he and two other employees who were known union organizers were fired for performance-related issues that he claims are "false." The labor union working with Kickstarter employees later filed a charge with the the National Labor Relations Board against Kickstarter on behalf of Moore and another fired employee, Clarissa Redwine.

Kickstarter has denied that its terminations were retaliatory.

"Kickstarter has not retaliated against any employees for union organizing," the company said in a statement to CBS News. "We fired two employees in September, and we understand how that would raise concerns given their roles in the organizing effort. But that involvement had nothing to do with their terminations."

CEO Aziz Hasan wrote to the company in an email last year that he and the company "understood how these firings could be perceived, but it would be unfair to not hold these two employees to the same standards as the rest of our staff," Vice reported. In the same email, Hasan asserted that "the union framework is inherently adversarial," and that it would set the company back.  

After Tuesday's vote, Hasan said in a statement to CBS News that he and the company "support and respect" employees' decision to unionize, adding, "we are proud of the fair and democratic process that got us here."

Redwine celebrated the union's victory on Twitter.

"The vote was close. Management did a great job busting," she wrote. "Now it's time for the newly unionized workforce to mend the divide. Soon both YES votes and NO votes will work together to bargain a contract."

Redwine also said she and Moore may now be "reinstated" at the company, adding, "if we are, we'll be returning to a freshly democratized workplace!" According to Kickstarter, their reinstatements are not guaranteed, as the National Labor Relations Board has yet to rule on their claims.

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