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Big Cartel staff are voluntarily recognized as the latest tech workers union

·4-min read

Yesterday, e-commerce company Big Cartel's co-founders Matt Wigham and Eric Turner voluntarily recognized the Big Cartel Workers Union. After the new year, the union -- which represents all 30 non-management employees at the Salt Lake City-based tech company -- will begin negotiating their contracts. This news comes just nine months after workers at the software company Glitch signed the tech industry's first collective bargaining agreement.

The Big Cartel Workers Union will be represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Tech Workers Union Local 1010, the same group that represents unions at Kickstarter and Code for America.

"It's clear that the founders of Big Cartel want this union to be successful, and they see how all of our values line up," said Andrew Shaw, who has worked in marketing for two years at Big Cartel. "I expect the bargaining can go pretty smoothly and quickly and continue to be a good example of how unionizing can go forward in a tech company in an amicable way."

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Often, unionization pushes are spurred by a particular moment of crisis. But in the case of Big Cartel, the movement to unionize stemmed from a desire to simply affirm and uphold workplace protections.

"It's really building protections around the things in our working conditions that we value, so ensuring that our pay is solid and equitable across genders, races and teams within the company, and making sure that our benefits are more guaranteed than they are now without a contract. We're interested in more transparency and more participation in the decision-making processes for the company," Shaw told TechCrunch.

The Big Cartel Workers Union will also be the first tech union in a "right-to-work" state. Twenty-seven states, according to the OPEIU, have "right-to-work" laws, which prohibit union security agreements between employers and unions. This means that no employee can be forced to join a union or pay union dues, but sometimes, these policies can make it more difficult for employees to form unions in the first place.

"So often in these companies, benefits just kind of come up [in conversation], or there has to be an individual conflict in order for you to work out some of these details," Shaw said. "I'm excited to see that we can have these conversations without having to begin with a conflict, or without having to feel like it's an urgent crisis moment."

Right now, workers at video game company Activision Blizzard are experiencing their own "urgent crisis moment." This summer, the developer of games like "World of Warcraft" and "Call of Duty" was sued by state labor regulators for discriminatory workplace practices, and in September, the company confirmed it is being investigated by the SEC. Since then, over a thousand workers at Activision Blizzard signed a petition to remove CEO Bobby Kotrick, who reportedly covered up sexual assault allegations in the workplace. Last week, a group called A Better ABK initiated an open-ended strike and a union drive -- already, executives have asked employees to "consider the consequences" of joining a union.

But even in less extreme cases, the road can be rocky for tech workers who are starting to unionize. When Kickstarter employees formed a union in 2019, the crowdfunding company's leadership refused to voluntarily recognize the unit. When management doesn't recognize a workers' union, the organizers must conduct an election through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) -- in the case of the Kickstarter union, this process took 10 months before they ultimately voted to unionize.

Just yesterday, workers at the controversial crime-tracking app Citizen voted to unionize over a year after unionization efforts began. Earlier this year, a spokesperson for Citizen told the New York Post that the company opposed the union drive.

"We're definitely inspired by our comrades at Code for America and Kickstarter," Shaw told TechCrunch. "We want others to be inspired by the work that we're doing because we want to make sure that not just the 30 people here at Big Cartel are protected, but that workers across all industries and across all companies are protected and treated fairly."

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