Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter has been the springboard for countless original products over the years, but an apparent attempt by the company’s management to bust up an ongoing union drive is dismally old-fashioned.
Clarissa Redwine, Kickstarter’s former East Coast senior design and tech outreach lead, publicized her ouster from the company and continued hostilities from leadership this morning, tweeting, “I will not be signing your termination agreement containing a non-disparagement clause. You can keep my severance.” Speaking to Gizmodo, Redwine said that she believes increased scrutiny from management—which ultimately resulted in her firing—was in retaliation for her organizing efforts.
Through an attorney, Redwine has filed a formal unfair labor practice charge against Kickstarter, a copy of which was reviewed by Gizmodo. The charge claims the company has “an unlawfully broad non-disparagement clause,” which Redwine says she would have had to sign in order to collect her severance pay.
Kickstarter employees first announced their intention to unionize with the Office of Professional Employees International Union, (OPEIU) local 153 in March of this year, a plan which management has been openly hostile towards.
As reported earlier today by Slate’s April Glaser, Redwine was not the only employee recently fired: Kickstarter terminated Taylor Moore this morning, who was also active in organizing efforts. A letter circulated by extant organizers within the company describes the firings as retaliatory efforts to dismantle the union drive. On Thursday evening, Moore tweeted, “I was fired for organizing a union. They offered me no real reasons, but one month’s severance for signing an NDA,” which Moore stated he would not sign.
Beyond firing or forcing out individuals engaged in organizing efforts, workers claim Kickstarter also held so-called “captive audience” meetings where they were told a union would make the business less nimble and keep employees from being able to advocate for themselves—one of the oldest tricks in the book of union-busting tactics.
We’ve reached out to Kickstarter management for comment. The union’s letter is reproduced below in full.
Kickstarter United is under attack.
Since the release of our mission statement in May, our union has upheld a policy of not engaging with the press, out of respect for our colleagues and the process of organizing. Accordingly, it is with a mixture of deep disappointment and unparalleled anger that we sign this letter today. For the integrity of our organization, the sake of the tech industry, and in the name of justice, the time for silence has passed.
Over the course of the past week, two members of our organizing committee have been fired, unexpectedly, without even the semblance of due process. The “reasons” given for both of these retaliatory firings are senseless, especially given the positive, reaffirming feedback these folks have received in reviews about their job performance (no more details are being disclosed to coworkers, with a senior leader citing respect for these folks’ privacy as the reason). Both of these individuals are being asked to sign strangling non-disparagement agreements in order to receive their menial (one-month) severance offers, despite having a cumulative 10-year tenure at Kickstarter.
The union-busting playbook that Kickstarter management has been running is as hackneyed as it is transparent. Despite the company’s message that they are allowing our colleagues the space to determine if a union is the right avenue for Kickstarter, their blatant disrespect for the organizing process speaks directly otherwise. Their actions are laced with hypocrisy. Earlier this year, our CEO declared that Kickstarter would not voluntarily recognize our union, before our organizers had even asked. Numerous captive audience meetings have been held, in which the union has been pitched as a money-grubbing third party coming to steal our organization’s sense of autonomy.
To this, we ask you all: Is this what it means to be a Public Benefit Corporation? How can we continue to reconcile the discrepancies between the flaunting of our company’s mission and the way we treat our employees? Are these the values of Kickstarter, PBC? What is the point of being a PBC if the core values of our mission do not begin internally, with the people working to continue the success of our organization? What is a mission without those who have given years of their lives to uphold it?
That Kickstarter’s leadership is targeting union organizers and supporters is clear. This can happen to any of us. We pledge to continue fighting, as we have been left with no other choice. Our only remaining options are to speak out, and to ensure that the public narrative accurately reflects the truth.
Creators, backers, alumni, and comrades, we ask for your support. To all our colleagues: If these events have alarmed you, let them be your motivation. Sign a petition. The time has come.
Update 9/12/19 5:57 ET: David Gallagher, senior director of communications at Kickstarter, sent the following comprehensive reply to Gizmodo’s inquiries:
Kickstarter has not fired or otherwise retaliated against anyone for union organizing. We have affirmed the staff’s right to organize, and nearly six months after the organizing effort was announced, the decision remains in their hands.
Over that time, Kickstarter’s leadership has worked to foster an environment where the right to organize and the rules around that process are followed and respected. We’ve educated ourselves and the staff on the unionization process, bringing in an impartial outside expert for an information session that managers were not permitted to attend. Whenever an organizing event is announced, we remind managers of their responsibility to not interfere, asking that they not monitor who is attending the event or talk to their direct reports about who attended. (The organizers are holding two events in the office kitchen this week, a breakfast and a lunch.)
On retaliation: In May, 28 staff members put their names on a statement supporting the union efforts. Fifteen of those staff members were on a cycle that made them eligible for mid-year raises or promotions. Fourteen out of those 15 received a merit-based raise, and three were promoted. That’s not the behavior of a company that is looking to punish union supporters.
While we would prefer not to comment on personnel matters, we feel obligated to correct the record. These two employees failed to correct performance issues that had been documented and discussed in detail with them over the course of several months, leaving us no choice but to part ways with them. They were not singled out — two other employees also left the company after recent performance reviews.
Clarissa asked us about the non-disparagement clause and, in an email to her over the weekend, we offered to revise it and answer any questions she had about it. She didn’t respond to that email. We were surprised to hear of her filing.
We have expectations that employees are able to perform in their role, and that they set up their teams and colleagues for success. We use twice-a-year performance reviews, peer feedback, manager feedback, one-on-one coaching and, in some cases, mediation to ensure that employees have the support they need to meet those expectations. When someone has been through this process and we have sufficient evidence that their performance is not improving, we must unfortunately part ways with them. In short, being a union organizer doesn’t change your responsibility to do your job.
On ‘captive audience:’ There are very few mandatory meetings at Kickstarter, apart from things like unconscious bias training, and an information session we held for managers with our outside counsel to cover the legal rules around organizing efforts. Attendance at other meetings where the question of unionization was discussed has always been voluntary — no record was made of who attended, and there were no consequences for not attending.