After months of rumors and tension, the employees at the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter voted to form a union. It’s believed to be the first of its kind in the technology industry. Employees have been battling management over numerous conditions that lead to some calling for a boycott of the platform and general split in how non-employees should react.
Kickstarter United will be formally recognized by the National Labor Relations Board.
The organizing took place over a year and a half and saw two leaders fired, two other workers leaving the company, and one other forced to resign. The company said it never fired anyone over union activity but that claim has been refuted.
The next step is for Kickstarter United to head to the bargaining table to negotiate a contract addressing the union’s concerns such as equitable pay, diversity in hiring, and a say in moderation of the platform.
The union will work with the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153.
The unionization was sparked in August 2018 over a comic book. Always Punch Nazis was accused by the right of violating Kickstarter’s terms of services and there was an internal struggle if the project was ok for the platform. Employees fought to keep the project saying it didn’t violate guidelines while management disagreed. The comic was initially blocked from the platform and then that decision was reversed.
Kickstarter United went public in March 2019 followed by management pushing back against the effort through email and meetings.
Kickstarter is letting it’s anti-union flag fly as it’s fired two staffers who were attempting to organize a union at the company.
Taylor Moore and Clarissa Redwine were fired within a week of each other. Both were involved in a unionization effort that began last year. It’s reported the reason for the firings were “performance-related issues.”
Update: A third individual was told there was “no place for him at the company” according to Moore. It’s unknown if that individual is still employed with Kickstarter but the wording of Moore’s Tweet would indicate that’s not the case.
Redwine and the Office and Professional Employees International Union filed an unfair labor charge with the National Labor Relations Board. They allege that the severance agreement offered to her by Kickstarter contained an illegally phrased nondisparagement clause. The Professional Employees International Union was the organization employees were organizing through.
The company in response to the charge has said that it offered Redwine a narrowed nondisparagement clause focused on employees and not the company as a whole.
Redwine has since tweeted:
Talking to Slate, Redwine said she believes that it’s impossible for a former employee to “give an accurate, detailed depiction of their experience” with such a clause. She went on to say that she feels any “agreement that treats severance as repayment for silence is an unethical one.”
Unionization efforts sparked by a comic…
The unionization effort began in March. In May, CEO Aziz Hasan told employees the company wouldn’t voluntarily recognize the union if asked but would respect the results of a secret staff vote. Since then the company has expressed to staff that it doesn’t believe a union is right for Kickstarter. They claimed it’d be “expensive, disruptive, and slow the company down.”
Kickstarter United, the union effort, has concerns over workplace issues like salary equity, diversity in hiring, and a seat at the table concerning company decisions.
The effort stemmed from the handling of a comic project, Always Punch Nazis. That comic has run two successful campaigns ont he platform with a third incoming. The comic made thew news and far-right site Breitbart accused Kickstarter of violating its terms due to allowing a project that encouraged violence. The comics’ titel comes from the incident where white nationalist Richard Spencer was punched. The satirical graphic novel was about the country’s battle against racism.
Breitbart’s article rattled Kickstarter having them review the project. The Trust and Safety team initially decided to not act about the project but then management overruled them saying it had to be cancelled.
Employees felt management was giving in to bigots. An emergency meeting was called to hear employee concerns. Management said that the company needed to be consistent and enforce its policies and that the project shouldn’t have been approved to start.
A protest then ensued saying management was making a “both sides” argument. Not all staff agreed the project should remain but the overwhelming majority did. Management eventually reversed their decision.
In the weeks that followed the employee who shared the decision about the project to the company Slack channel was fired. Workers believed it was due to the posting. Threats from management against the Trust and Safety team were made about questioning decisions. Employees were then reminded that New York is an “at will” employment state meaning employees could be fired at any time.
From there, the discussion to unionize began with the majority off junior employees supporting it.
Kickstarter has become a vital tool in the comic industry where unionization has been a hot topic for years.
Comics have seen 14,670 projects launched on the platform with 8,383 of them successfully funding. Those successful comic projects have earned over $93.88 million dollars. There are nearly 241 projects raising almost $1 million currently running on the platform as of the publishing of this article. You can find daily updates stats on the Kickstarter site.
Comic creators have been vocal in recent years over comiXology’s support of creators and conventions and their parent company Amazon. Labor abuses and anti-union efforts by Amazon and their clients was one reason cited for concerns. It’s unknown if Kickstarter’s anti-labor stance will see similar ire. Kickstarter is sponsoring tables and the Ignatz Awards at this week’s Small Press Expo.
Not everyone is happy with Marvel‘s The Avengers. The American Federation of Musicians picketed Marvel Studios’ Manhattan Beach facility handing out leaflets. The organization is unhappy that the film was scored in Europe instead of the United States. The leaflets read:
How many more billions do you have to make before Marvel will score their film music at home.
Other aspects of the movie were “union-made” and it received production incentive tax breaks designed to keep productions in the United States. Disney allowed Marvel to score the movie overseas to save money.
After a week off, we were back yesterday with a brand new episode of Graphic Policy Radio. We were all over the map with discussions about New York Comic Con, unions, X-Factor, Occupy Wall Street, Marvel layoffs and some comic book reviews. Listen to the episode below!
With the introduction of a new Ultimate Spider-Man in Miles Morales, Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel comics has decided to use the opportunity to discuss Charter Schools and their role in the modern education system. Joe Quesada has talked about he and Bendis being inspired by the documentary, Waiting for Superman. He had this to say about that:
Now while I don’t want to give too much away, over the years I’ve been really intrigued by the revolutionary work being done by educator Geoffrey Canada, and as we looked deeper into Miles’ character, I suggested to Brian that he watch the documentary, “Waiting For Superman” (ironic, I know!). Bri loved it, and the wheels started turning.
The announcement caused grumblings that Marvel was taking and anti-Union stance with the storyline as the documentary isn’t too kind for them, leading to this piece written by Rick Avers on the Huffington Post about the movie’s errors. An outcry hit the blogosphere that the new Spidey will now be taking on union busting as part of his super hero gig.
In an interview on Word Balloon, Bendis waived his Union credentials and told people to wait to see how the story plays out, and I did. Well, the first chapter has been released with Ultimate Spider-Man #1, and after one issue I think Marvel’s writers need to go back and do some more research. From the comic book:
The two panels shows Miles Morales heading to his uncle’s after being accepted to a charter school. His uncle asks, “Your daddy gonna be able to pay for it?” in reference to the school. The problem is that’s not factually correct as to how charter schools work. We followed up with an expert on the subject, a member of the American Federation of Teachers, about whether charter schools charge tuition as the panel implies.
I can’t really tell what’s going on in the panel. Is that the school that the kid is at? Looks like Bubbles’ basement in “The Wire.”
Charter schools are not supposed to charge tuition. They don’t. Some have requirements that parents volunteer their time (which, obviously, is like contributing money) and may have “activity fees” that are implied to be mandatory but are not. These are supposed to be public schools, so they should be free like all public schools.
Maybe Marvel’s writers are mixing up private schools and charter schools? No matter the excuse or the reason, it’s hard to take serious their exploration of the subject if simple facts of whether or not you have to pay to go isn’t correctly portrayed. I went from being open and intrigued by a storyline to back being nervous in a few incorrect sentences.
This past Thursday the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society filed an arbitration claim on behalf of Julie Taymor, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark‘s original director. The claim is over the failure to pay royalties to the director. In a statement the union said to producers:
…failed to pay to Ms. Taymor any royalties for the run of the production” in violation of her contract and the union’s collective bargaining agreement. Laura Penn, the society’s executive director, said in the statement that Ms. Taymor “has given nine years of her life to this project” and its producers had “absolutely no right, legally and ethically, to withhold royalties that are due to her.” Ms. Penn added, “In fact, the right to use her work, on Broadway or anywhere else, is dependent upon the payment of royalties.
The union represents theater directors. The union says that according to it’s collective bargaining agreement, directors are supposed to receive royalties with a show’s first paid public performance, which occurred in November for the Broadway musical.
Fantastic Forum takes on the topic of unionizing comic book talent. The episode was posted three months ago, but was just brought to our attention. It’s an interesting discussion and worth checking out.
Hosted by Seven Hells creator and Second Printing contributor Devon Sanders with panelists Ben Hatton, James Rambo creators of “Gluten Free” and Sherin Nicole.