Glitch workers have signed a collective bargaining agreement with the company — a historic milestone for the tech industry. The contract, which was ratified overwhelmingly by union members, will last for 11 months. It’s the first agreement signed by white collar tech workers in the United States, according to a press release from the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The contract went into effect on February 28th.
The agreement — a legal contract between the union and the company — does not include higher wages, which weren’t a focus for union members. Union representatives say they might try to include these in a future contract, but for now they recognize that Glitch is a small startup operating during a pandemic with pay and benefits that are already generous.
The agreement ensures “just cause” protections for Glitch employees
The agreement does include significant working protections, as well as codifying the benefits that currently exist. Among other measures, the agreement ensures “just cause” protections for Glitch employees — meaning workers can only be fired or disciplined through a specific process. That’s particularly important in the United States, where most employment contracts are at-will.
It also establishes recall rights for employees laid off during the pandemic, a provision specifically aimed at 18 people Glitch laid off in May. Glitch must now offer those employees their jobs back if it plans to rehire for the positions, according to the agreement. At the time, the company said it had to “significantly cut operating costs” due to the pandemic. On Twitter, CEO Anil Dash emphasized that it was an economic decision, and not one that reflected the value of the employees.
“We didn’t want to hamstring Glitch”
“There’s a lot of fear that you can’t be nimble with a union in the tech industry, but this shows there are ways to do it,” says Sheridan Kates, a senior software engineer and bargaining committee representative. “We have an 11-month contract, we didn’t focus on wages and benefits. We didn’t want to hamstring Glitch. We wanted to see ourselves as partners with management and codify the things that are important to us as a union.”
The news comes nearly a year after Glitch workers voted to unionize with the Communications Workers of America Local 1101. After 90 percent of employees indicated their support, the union was voluntarily recognized by Glitch management.
It’s a stark contrast to companies like Amazon and Kickstarter, which have gone to great lengths to discourage employees from unionizing. In Alabama, Amazon has been running a brutal anti-union campaign for months as warehouse workers in Bessemer organize. In 2019, Kickstarter fired two highly visible union organizers. Last fall, the company reached a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board after it found sufficient evidence that one of those firings was retaliation for organizing.
Food service workers in the tech industry have been able to secure union contracts, however. In 2018, Facebook cafeteria workers ratified their first agreement, winning higher wages for contractors.
Kates says the company’s decision to voluntarily recognize the union changed how each side went into contract negotiations. “Having voluntary recognition helped us not have to go into this in an adversarial way,” she says. “We recognized that we were coming to the table from a place of wanting to do right by each other.”
It’s a point of view shared by Dash, who says voluntary recognition was a positive experience for both sides. “For us, it was very effective and we were very aligned,” Dash tells The Verge. “I’m really glad that’s the case and I’m glad that was our workers’ experience.”
News of the agreement comes amid a rush of organizing activity in the tech industry. In January, workers at Google formed a solidarity union in affiliation with CWA. The following month, Medium workers announced plans to unionize as well (the organization recently failed to win majority support in a third-party election and is momentarily pausing organizing activities).
The Kickstarter union, which won a hard-fought election in February 2020, is still negotiating its first contract.
In a statement emailed to The Verge, a Kickstarter spokesperson said it believes the unionization process was cooperative. They added: “We are now focused on working with our unionized staff to negotiate a fair collective bargaining agreement.”
Update March 2nd, 2:12PM EST: This article has been updated with a statement from Kickstarter.