Employees at Code for America (CFA) announced today they are unionizing with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 1010. Organizers say 62 people have signed authorization cards, meaning 77 percent of eligible employees have indicated their support for the effort.
The national nonprofit builds tech products for government agencies, including helping county courthouses automatically clear peoples’ records once they are eligible and operating one of the biggest intake sites for California food stamp benefits.
Employees say they are largely happy with the work — and are better paid than colleagues at other nonprofits. Still, they feel a union could give them more of a say in business decisions. “A union gives independent contributors a seat at the table,” says Ash Campo, a CFA employee and organizer. “Unionizing allows us to rethink the barrier between staff and management, so that regular staff can have a meaningful say in decisions that affect them and benefit the organization collectively.”
The announcement is part of a larger movement of white collar workers unionizing. In 2020, workers at Kickstarter formed one of the first unions made up of full-time white collar workers in the tech industry, also with OPEIU. Earlier this year, employees at Glitch signed one of tech’s first collective bargaining agreements.
CFA’s organizing effort began almost a year ago. At first, some employees were skeptical, noting that the organization already gives employees input on policy decisions. But organizers felt this wasn’t enough. “Folks are generally happy with the way things are going and speak to the collaborative nature of management,” explains Ben Calegari, a software engineer and union organizer. “But I think an issue with that is it relies on having a relationship with managers to create change.”
Another union organizer who asked to remain anonymous agrees. “A union would give us collective power, where right now we have to rely on individual power to get things changed.”
Employees say they plan to advocate for better compensation and promotion policies and possibly a seat on the board. “We have an opportunity as nonprofit workers who make a little more and are better funded than others to prove that nobody is above dignified work, with the consent and input of workers,” says Calegari. “There are many people in worse conditions than ours who do not have the latitude to speak and move as freely as we do. So it’s our responsibility to use our freedom for the collective good.”
Ash Campo also says the union is a chance for CFA to fully realize its goals. “Code for America’s mission is to build technology by and for people, and for me unionizing is the actualization of that mission internally,” they explain. “We want to create policies that are built by people for people and unionizing is the only way to give us a seat at that table.”
On Monday, the union asked Code for America management for voluntary recognition. Grace Reckers, a lead organizer with OPEIU, says she’s hopeful that will happen, but notes employees are prepared if it doesn’t. “I have full confidence they would win an election if we needed to go there,” she says.