• Market Crumbs

Will Tech's First Union Open The Floodgates For Others?

Image via Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

Last year, Market Crumbs detailed the increasing level of discontent among employees at some of the largest companies in Silicon Valley. Employees at these companies have become increasingly unhappy with the types of business their employers have undertaken as well as their work environment. 

Microsoft employees were upset about the company winning the Department of Defense's Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, as well as Microsoft subsidiary Github's contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Google employees were upset about the company's "Dragonfly" project, which was a search engine designed for China. Over at Facebook, employees were unhappy with the company's decision to allow politicians to post ads on the social network without being fact-checked.

As a result, these companies have increasingly seen employees band together in support of their shared beliefs. In Google's case, they even fired a handful of employees late last year who took part in organizing a walkout against the company's labor practices. While Google said the employees violated various company policies, the terminated employees accused Google of "union busting."

We highlight these issues because earlier this week employees at technology company Kickstarter voted to form a union after an 18-month fight with management. In doing so, Kickstarter United became the first full-time employee union in the tech industry

"What Kickstarter employees are organizing a union for is the agency to challenge management when management is failing the community," said Clarissa Redwine, one of Kickstarter United's organizers. "Workers want to be able to participate in critical product decisions without retaliation, to change how the company handles sexual harassment, how it addresses gender discrimination, and they want to take on future challenges with a healthy power structure."

Kickstarter United's committee will meet with management to work on a new contract that addresses their concerns, which include equitable pay, diversity and having a voice in how the company's services are moderated.   

"We support and respect this decision, and we are proud of the fair and democratic process that got us here," said Aziz Hasan, CEO of Kickstarter. 

Nataliya Nedzhvetskaya, who co-created Collective Actions in Tech, which is an online database tracking employee activism in the tech industry, notes activity has increased recently. 

"In the last year through our repository, we found a tremendous upsurge of activism from white-collar workers in tech specifically," Nedzhvetskaya said. "Some of these actions were directed toward workplace benefits, such as pay, child care on the job, and more flexible hours, but a lot were also motivated by these kinds of moral positions, as people took on issues like immigration or climate change."

With activism at tech companies on the rise, it may not be long before other companies follow in the footsteps of the employees at Kickstarter in forming their own unions to fight for the work environment they desire.

Leftover Crumbs

  • He created a monster. Amazon's first employee, Shel Kaphan, is concerned about how large Amazon has grown and the company's influence. "I built a substantial part of the early system that allowed them to come into existence, so I feel responsibility because of that," Kaphan said. "On one hand, I’m proud what it became, but it also scares me." Kaphan believes the idea of breaking up Amazon, which is being weighed by regulators and politicians, is not so far fetched. "I think the characterization of Amazon as a ruthless competitor is true," Kaphan said. "Under the flag of customer obsession they can do a lot of things which might not be good for people who aren’t their customers."

  • They may need a new dentist. Jeffrey A. Sulitzer, SmileDirectClub’s chief clinical officer, is under fire after the state of California completed a two year investigation and found nine different causes for discipline, including defrauding regulators and acting with gross negligence toward patients. The state is seeking the revocation or suspension of his California dental license as a result of the investigation. SmileDirectClub’s counsel said "the accusations against Sulitzer are factually inaccurate, and will be proven false in the course of the process." SmileDirectClub declined to comment on the state's investigation.

  • There's no inflation. General Mills believes the answer to declining cereal sales is to sell a $13.00 box of cereal. The company is trying to attract health-conscious customers to its Morning Summit cereal, which consists of almonds, cereal flakes, dried cherries, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds. General Mills has also introduced Blueberry Cheerios and GoodBelly probiotic cereal in an attempt to lure more people to the once popular breakfast staple. "Our strategy to drive continued cereals growth is centered on launching compelling innovation that offers taste, convenience and health benefits, while investing in brand building," CEO Jeff Harmening said.

  • They're cutting their losses. Alphabet's experimental X Lab is shutting down Makani, which makes power-generating-kites. Alphabet's "Other Bets" segment lost $4.8 billion last year, up from a $3.4 billion loss in 2018. "It’s been a very hard choice for us," X lab CEO Astro Teller said. "Our estimate of the rewards for the world, the reward to Alphabet, and the risks and costs to get there ... they change over time. It’s part of my job to assess that and make sure that we’re picking the best ones we can for Alphabet to spend its money on."

  • Wendy's is picking a fight with Burger King. Wendy's used the news of Burger King's new french fry-filled burger to take shots at the company. Wendy's Twitter tweeted "When literally anything would be better on a bun than their beef." That was only the beginning, as Wendy's replied to a tweet saying "Please tell me this is a joke" with "Their whole restaurant is." One Twitter user asked Wendy's if they have beef with Burger King, to which they replied "We have beef. No idea what they have."