Open Letter to Kickstarter on the Topic of Unions

A little back-story: We asked, and were invited, to comment to Kickstarter’s executive team about this week’s news that they will not voluntarily recognize employees’ efforts to unionize. Here is the letter we sent to them; we decided to make it public in the hopes that fellow users of the platform, both creators and backers, will be inspired to also make their voices heard on this matter. This decision affects not just the workers at Kickstarter, but will set a precedent for other tech companies, many of whom employ large teams of lower-paid manufacturing workers.

Dear executive team,

For the last decade, I’ve been a heavy user of Kickstarter as a creator (I have something like 40 projects under my belt) and a backer, and I have advocated strongly for your platform to any of our publishing colleagues who will listen. Without Kickstarter, it’s unlikely I would have a career creating books and connecting with readers. Being able to use it now substantially helps us to create an equitable workplace and pay a living wage to a growing staff—and in publishing, that’s no mean feat.

Just this past Saturday, my partner and I traveled to New York so he could participate as a panelist in the Next Page conference organized by your publishing lead. I nearly cried during the conference because it is the first publishing event I’ve ever attended where the majority of participants and the assumed audience were not white, wealthy, able-bodied cis people; and not coincidentally, the only such event I’ve attended where every session furthered an idealistic and practical conversation about how to make our industry more inclusive. It cemented to me something I’ve always implicitly believed about Kickstarter—that at its very bones, the company is committed to leveling the playing field and has goals beyond profit.

That’s why it was so painful to return home and read in yesterday’s Verge article that you have chosen not to voluntarily recognize workers’ efforts to unionize. Worse, the CEO’s comments seemed to place blame on the workers for cultural issues like trust. I don’t know the situation at Kickstarter, but in my experience as a manager, that culture comes from the top, and labor complaints don’t happen without cause. 

We are currently running a Kickstarter project for a book we care deeply about.  But this week, we find we can’t promote this project in good conscience. I would describe the reactions in our office as ranging from bummed to pissed. Your decision is bafflingly, profoundly at odds with the ethic Kickstarter projects in every piece of its branding and behavior—and which has been upheld by every single worker I’ve encountered over the years. Kickstarter and its people are part of our community, and this feels personal. It’s also at odds with our own company’s ethics and history—our founder and publisher is the grandchild of immigrants who were brought out of poverty by labor unions. Our owners and managers make a comparable wage to the rank and file and we are in the process of becoming worker-owned. 

We’ve put our efforts on our current project on hold and are discussing canceling it altogether; we’ll decide next week. Our decision will likely be swayed by communication we received from one of the Kickstarter union organizers thanking us for the solidarity and urging us to continue with our project, as everyone’s shared goal here is to fund and promote creative work. We truly look forward to getting back to focusing on this! But in the meantime, if it comes down to it, we will not cross a digital picket line and we’ll urge our community to do the same.

I’m writing to urge you to reconsider accepting the union of your own accord. Your workers deserve it, the rest of the tech industry needs you to set a strong example, and you’ll re-earn the lifelong loyalty of backers and creators—well, ourselves, certainly. It’s difficult to see what you can’t win.

Thanks for the opportunity to write to you about this.

Elly Blue

Microcosm