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Kickstarter is facing blowback after firing two employees involved in its ongoing unionization effort, as first reported by Slate. Both employees were dismissed over the past eight days, leading to concerns that the firings may be part of a broader retaliation effort. US labor law forbids employers from firing or otherwise reprimanding employees for taking part in unionization efforts.
One of the employees, Taylor Moore, told The Verge that he believed he had been fired in connection with his unionizing efforts. “This morning after six years of pouring my life into the mission, people, and creators of Kickstarter, I was fired for union organizing,” Moore said. “Last week another member of the union organizing committee was fired and we have reason to believe that more are being targeted.”
“The union busting campaign that Kickstarter management is engaging in is illegal and wrong,” Moore continued, “and is a dramatic abandonment of the values of an organization that I have loved and served with my whole heart.”
Reached by The Verge, Kickstarter denied any retaliatory motive and said the company felt “obligated to correct the record.” It said both employees had been fired because they “failed to correct performance issues that were documented and discussed in detail with them over the course of several months.”
“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,” a Kickstarter spokesperson said. “This is not as interesting as a story about ‘union busting,’ but it is the reality of what happened here.”
Still, not everyone is convinced, and some users are already planning protests in solidarity with the fired employees.
According to Kickstarter, the firings coincided with the company’s semiannual performance review, which recently completed for the first half of 2019. The company also said that, of the 28 staff members who have publicly come out in support of the union, 14 out of 15 who were eligible for a raise or promotion during this review cycle received one or both.
Still, the firings come at a sensitive time for the nascent union, which has not yet been recognized by Kickstarter. Employees announced the effort in March, organizing under the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU). In May, Kickstarter management said it would not voluntarily recognize the union if asked, arguing that managers had been inappropriately involved in the organizing process. Instead, management has pushed for an NLRB election, leading to a stalemate that has now persisted for months. If the effort is successful, Kickstarter would be the first major tech company to unionize.
In a separate blast sent out through organizing channels, the Kickstarter United group described the recent actions as a violation of the public benefit pledge made by the company in 2015. “Kickstarter United is under attack,” the email reads. “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?”
But Kickstarter management maintains that it has taken no steps to stifle the union. “We have affirmed the staff’s right to organize, and nearly six months after the organizing effort here was announced, the decision remains in their hands,” the company said. “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.”