Kickstarter staff begin unionizing as game industry debates its merits

Employees have formed a unionization effort called 'Kickstarter United' with help from New York organizers. If successful, Kickstarter United could become the first recognized union in the tech industry.

Gaming isn't the only industry talking about unionizing its workforce. Kickstarter's staff is working with New York-based Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153 as part of a company unionization effort called “Kickstarter United.”

In a memo from Kickstarter United, obtained by The Verge, the union stressed that it wants to "promote our collective values [at Kickstarter]: inclusion and solidarity, transparency and accountability; a seat at the tape." Organizers stressed that these core values "have failed to manifest in our workplace," concluding unionization is an opportunity to "do better—for ourselves and our industry.”

"The goal of our union is to have a formal seat at the table to negotiate with management," the union wrote to staff in an email obtained by The Verge. "We’re negotiating to promote our collective values, and ensure Kickstarter is around for the long haul. We care about preserving what’s great about Kickstarter and improving what isn’t."

While Kickstarter has yet to recognize Kickstarter United, the union expressed no animosity toward the company publicly. In an official statement obtained by The Verge, Kickstarter United praised both the crowdfunding platform's values and its leadership.

“Kickstarter United is proud to start the process of unionizing to safeguard and enrich Kickstarter’s charter commitments to creativity, equity, and a positive impact on society,” Kickstarter United said in a statement to The Verge. “We trust in the democratic process and are confident that the leadership of Kickstarter stands with us in that effort. Kickstarter has always been a trailblazer, and this is a pivotal moment for tech. We want to set the standard for the entire industry. Now is the time. Come together. Unionize.”

Meanwhile, Kickstarter seems to be receiving the union with grace. While the company has not yet recognized Kickstarter United, a spokesperson stressed that Kickstarter is eager to listen to its "employees' concerns."

“We’re proud that everyone here at Kickstarter cares deeply about its mission and its future,” a Kickstarter spokesperson said to The Verge. “We’re aware that there are team members at Kickstarter who are interested in forming a union, and we look forward to hearing more about our employees’ concerns.”

Unionization remains a growing issue in the tech industry. If Kickstarter United succeeds, it may influence other tech companies to unionize. That said, Kickstarter’s headquarters are based in Brooklyn, not Silicon Valley, and it remains unclear if a New York-based unionization effort could spark others to organize in Seattle, Boston, Austin, the Bay Area, and other popular tech regions.

Kickstarter United also reflects an ongoing conversation about fair treatment, workers’ rights, and unionization in the games industry. AFL-CIO, the largest union federation in the U.S., recently called on games industry employees to unionize. In an open letter published by Kotaku, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler criticized game studios’ "outrageous hours," "inadequate paychecks," and "stressful, toxic work conditions."

“This is a moment for change. It won’t come from CEOs. It won’t come from corporate boards. And, it won’t come from any one person,” Shuler wrote in February. “Change will happen when you gain leverage by joining together in a strong union. And, it will happen when you use your collective voice to bargain for a fair share of the wealth you create every day.”

Unionization remains a popular choice among developers too, although not everyone is on board. In GDC organizers' 2019 State of the Game Industry survey, 47 percent of games industry employees polled supported unionization, while 16 percent were against unionizing. Many respondents weren’t sure if unionization was the right choice: 26 percent said "maybe," while 11 percent said they "don't know." In other words, while nearly half of all industry members supported unionization, 53 percent either rejected unionization or were unsure if it was the right.

With games employees divided on unionizing, it’s unclear for now if developers will follow Kickstarter United’s lead. But as the tech world begins grappling with these questions, expect gaming to continue its conversation as well.

For more stories like this one delivered straight to your inbox, please subscribe to the GameDailyBiz Digest!

Ana Valens is a games journalist from Brooklyn, New York. Her coverage at GameDaily.biz specializes in player-developer relations, long-term business trends, and gender issues in the gaming industry. Alongside her frequent contributions to GameDaily, her work has appeared at the Daily Dot, Dot Esports, Waypoint, Rolling Stone's Glixel, and Fanbyte.

Platinum Sponsors
Gold Sponsors