On Monday night, unionizing employees at Kickstarter filed a complaint with the National Labor Review Board (NLRB) for allegedly wrongfully terminating two employees. Both of the employees were on the Kickstarter United organizing campaign.
Kickstarter told Motherboard that the workers, Clarissa Redwine and Taylor Moore, were fired over performance issues within the past two weeks. But employees at Kickstarter are accusing the company of “discharging employees” because “they joined or supported a labor organization and in order to discourage union activities,” according to the NLRB complaint, which was first reported and obtained by Slate's April Glaser. A third employee and member of the Kickstarter United organizing committee, Travis Brace, was informed on Thursday that he would no longer be needed in his role.
If the unionization campaign succeeds, Kickstarter would be the first well-known company in the tech industry to have a union.
In a September 12 email obtained by Motherboard, Aziz Hasan, the CEO of Kickstarter, wrote to employees, "There have been allegations that we are retaliating against union organizing. Those allegations are not true. No Kickstarter employee has been or ever will be fired for union organizing.”
Redwine says the company complained to her in recent months that she was not satisfactorily working with her managers. She claims that she was not given specific guidance on how she could improve.
“Suddenly, after becoming a public union organizer, I started to get very strong negative feedback,” Redwine told Motherboard. “After my best quarter at the company, I was told I was being put on a Performance Improvement Plan for slippery reasons like not building trust with my managers. I asked how progress would be tracked over and over and only received answers akin to ‘just trust us.’ I assume they never crafted the Performance Improvement Plan because they couldn’t come up with anything concrete for me to improve.”
Redwine and Moore are asking for back pay and to be reinstated to their positions position.
Slate reported that a majority of non-managers at Kickstarter support a union. A current Kickstarter employee told Motherboard that union members are now meeting privately to discuss where employees stand in the wake of the firings.
In response to the complaint, Kickstarter told Motherboard, “We’ll be providing the NLRB with information about these firings and supporting documentation.”
Kickstarter told Motherboard that it "recently terminated two employees for performance reasons. A third was working on a service we shut down, so his role was eliminated, and there were no other positions here that would be a strong fit. That staff member will be transitioning out of the company. All three of these employees were members of the organizing committee, but this has nothing to do with their departures. (We have fired three other people who were not organizers since March.)"
"We expect all employees—including union organizers—to be able to perform in their role and set up their teams and colleagues for success. We use a range of approaches—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 they are not meeting expectations, we must unfortunately part ways with them," the company continued.
Former Kickstarter CEO and co-founder, Perry Chen, announced he was stepping down from his role in March shortly after employees went public with their plans to unionize. He remains chairman of the board.
“Perry Chen left the company before the worst of the labor violations occurred. But he’s still the majority shareholder and the chairman of the board,” Moore, one of the fired union organizers, told Motherboard. “The people he left in charge are blowing it. I hope he sees what’s happening and does the right thing. Kickstarter’s staff, and its mission, deserve better.”
Kickstarter maintains that it's not trying to bust the union: “In May, 28 staff members publicly declared their support for the union. Fifteen of those them were on a schedule that made them eligible for mid-year raises or promotions. Fourteen 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. Obviously we knew how these terminations could be perceived. But it would be unfair to not hold these two employees to the same standards as the rest of our staff.”
Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153, the union representing Kickstarter workers, filed the charges with the NLRB, the federal agency governing union elections. The NLRB will now ask the union to provide an affidavit describing the charges, and Kickstarter will respond.