Kickstarter Hired a Law Firm That Advertises ‘Maintaining a Union-Free Workplace’
Kickstarter is working with a Philadelphia regulation agency that provides experience in labor relations and “maintaining a union-free workplace,” within the midst of a historic union marketing campaign on the Brooklyn-based crowd-funding firm.
The firm confirmed to Motherboard that it first retained the providers of the agency Duane Morris in 2018 earlier than it knew of any organizing exercise on the firm. Kickstarter can be the primary main tech agency to efficiently unionize within the United States if the union wins when election outcomes are counted on February 18, which might ship a message to disgruntled tech staff throughout the nation.
On its web site, Duane Morris, one of many highest-grossing regulation corporations within the nation, boasts that its attorneys have “extensive experience” in administration and labor relations, together with “sustaining a union-free office” and “handling unfair labor practice charges at the NLRB.” After staff at WHYY, the National Public Radio affiliate in Philadelphia, introduced their intentions to unionize final yr, the firm retained Duane Morris and declined to voluntarily acknowledge its union. Lawyers on its website boast expertise and accomplishments that embody, “counseling and training designed to avoid litigation, unionization and employee attrition,” successful elections to maintain companies “union free,” and “strategic union-free planning,” throughout the meals and trucking industries.
According to an nameless supply with information of the conferences and resumes on Duane Morris’ web site, Kickstarter administration met with attorneys with experience particularly in these areas. Motherboard granted the supply anonymity as a result of they feared retaliation. When requested about its relationship with Duane Morris, Kickstarter confirmed that it had retained the agency’s providers, however mentioned it couldn’t go into a lot element because of the “media blackout” settlement struck between the union and administration in December.
“We first hired Duane Morris in 2018 to help with things like HR policies and anti-harassment training, well before we knew of any union organizing effort at Kickstarter,” a Kickstarter spokesperson mentioned. “When we became aware of that effort last spring, we asked the firm if they had an expert on unions, because we needed to quickly get up to speed on that. So clearly ‘union avoidance’ has never been our goal in hiring or working with Duane Morris. The firm has helped us make sure that we have been in compliance with labor law throughout the organizing process, and has advised us on best practices and what to expect during a union election.”
“Throughout this process it has been our top priority to give our staff the room to make this decision for themselves,” the spokesperson added. “We provided resources and space for staff discussions without leadership participation, we agreed to a restrictive neutrality agreement, and we moved quickly to agree on a bargaining unit ahead of the vote. This was a free and fair election, and we will respect our staff’s decision.”
While we do not understand how Duane Morris has particularly suggested Kickstarter, labor specialists informed Motherboard that firms looking for authorized counsel for union negotiations have a selection with regards to whether or not to rent legal professionals specializing in union avoidance—extra derogatorily often known as “union-busting”—which is the vary of actions concerned in serving to employers keep away from or defeat union drives and elections.
“Not all management firms engage in the same kind of flagrant union busting practice that some large firms have developed,” Celine McNicholas, labor counsel on the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a non-partisan financial coverage suppose tank in Washington, DC, informed Motherboard. “The good news is that the firms that do this work most aggressively tend to advertise and tend to be the firms you see attacking workers’ rights over and over again before the NLRB and in federal court.”
“Like with all matters, if an employer wants to work with its workers and respect their rights, it can easily do so. It is not impossible to identify legal counsel to assist in that effort,” McNicholas, the labor counsel at EPI, continued.
A spokesperson for Duane Morris wouldn’t go into element when requested whether or not it had suggested Kickstarter particularly on union avoidance. “Duane Morris helps its purchasers obtain their targets in a lawful and acceptable method in step with its skilled obligations,” the spokesperson said. “Kickstarter is a public profit company that was open to signing—and did signal—a neutrality settlement with the Union, and Duane Morris assisted it in doing so. Providing authorized assist concerning an employer’s lawful place on unions is accountable lawyering.”
The union Kickstarter United and the AFL-CIO, the federation that features the Office and Professional Employees International Union, which represents Kickstarter staff, didn’t reply to Motherboard’s request for remark.
In latest months, Kickstarter has vehemently and repeatedly denied that it has engaged in any union-busting exercise.
Since its founding in 2009, the tech firm has tried to tell apart itself as a progressive different to Silicon Valley corporations. After changing into a “public profit company” in 2015, administration wrote in a letter to backers, “Benefit Corporations are for-profit companies that are obligated to consider the impact of their decisions on society, not only shareholders…. Kickstarter is excited to join a growing list of forward-thinking organizations — like Patagonia and This American Life — that have taken the big step to become a Benefit Corporation.”
“Like with all issues, if an employer desires to work with its staff and respect their rights, it could possibly simply achieve this. It just isn’t inconceivable to establish authorized counsel to help in that effort.”
In September, the corporate fired two staff on the union’s organizing committee inside eight days, and knowledgeable a third union organizer that he would now not be wanted in his function. Both of the fired staff filed unfair labor follow complaints with the National Labor Review Board (NLRB), alleging the corporate of “discharging staff” as a result of “they joined or supported a labor organization and in order to discourage union activities.”
Following outcry from outstanding Kickstarter creators in regards to the firings, Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan insisted in a letter to creators that the firings had been strictly associated to job efficiency, not union organizing.
“It’s important for you to know, and to hear straight from me, that we haven’t fired anyone for union organizing,” wrote Hassan. “We respect our staff’s right to decide for themselves if they want a union at Kickstarter, and we are giving them the space they need to make that decision.”
In that very same letter, Hasan additionally mentioned that “The union framework is inherently adversarial.”
“That dynamic doesn’t reflect who we are as a company, how we interact, how we make decisions, or where we need to go,” Hasan wrote. “We believe that in many ways it would set us back.”
Days later, Kickstarter denied requests from the union to be voluntarily acknowledged.
Kickstarter’s work with Duane Morris coincides with a New York Times report that Google employed an anti-union consulting agency, presumably to advise it on mounting labor unrest on the firm. According to a latest report by EPI, U.S. firms spend roughly $340 million yearly on “union avoidance” consultants and regulation corporations, which advise firms on how you can win union campaigns. That identical report discovered that employers are charged with violating labor legal guidelines in additional than 40 % of union elections.
“Unfortunately, simply being an organization with a ‘progressive’ mission does not necessarily mean that the organization will embrace progressive values when it comes to workers’ rights,” McNicholas, the labor legal professional at EPI, mentioned. “And, unfortunately, it is not difficult to find legal counsel that will work hard to exploit massive loopholes in the existing law to help an employer avoid a union.”
The resolution adopted a heated controversy between staff and administration: the far right-wing information website Breitbart had accused Kickstarter of violating its personal phrases of service by inciting violence with a comedian ebook undertaking on the platform known as “Always Punch Nazis.” Slate reported that administration initially needed to take down the undertaking, however a group of Kickstarter staff argued that doing so “would give in to people trying to have a ‘both sides’ debate about Nazis.” After intensive inner dialogue, administration determined to depart the undertaking up, however quickly after, staff started speaking about unionizing.
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If they unionize, Kickstarter staff would be part of the primary white-collar union at a main tech firm within the United States, main engineers within the footsteps of many blue-collar tech staff. Contractors, gig staff, and different precarious tech workforces have led the rising union motion in tech lately. In 2019, 80 Google contractors in Pittsburgh and 2,300 Google cafeteria staff in Silicon Valley efficiently unionized. In early February, 15 Instacart gig staff within the Chicago suburbs received the grocery supply app’s first union within the United States, following a fierce anti-union marketing campaign run by native administration.
Kickstarter staff forged their votes in mid-January. A vote depend is scheduled for February 18.
Correction: This article initially mentioned that Kickstarter administration “refused” to take down a comedian ebook undertaking on the platform known as “Always Punch Nazis.” After intensive inner dialogue, administration determined to depart the undertaking up. Motherboard regrets the error.