Glitch, the software company behind Trello and Stack Overflow, now has a collective bargaining agreement with the Communications Workers of America (CWA.) The news is extraordinary, not just because they claim to be the first software workers to have secured a collective bargaining agreement, but because the lead-up to ratification has been so quiet: no leaked memos of smear campaigns, no evidence of union-busting firms. Wonderful, and eerie.
The contract is the outcome of an overwhelming majority vote to unionise under the CWA in March 2020, just before Glitch laid off about a third of its staff, citing the economic downturn. In a joint press release, Glitch workers and the CWA describe Glitch as an unusually willing partner in the negotiations. “Glitch’s management, which voluntarily recognised the union after it was announced, is an exception and should serve as a model for executives at other tech companies,” it reads.
The contract, which lasts 11 months, reportedly doesn’t prioritise “already generous” wages, but job security. The contract guarantees that laid-off workers will be offered their positions back if Glitch re-hires. It also ensures just cause, meaning that the employer may not discipline or fire a worker without a defensible reason.
“We love our jobs, we love working at Glitch, which is why we wanted to ensure we have a lasting voice at this company and lasting protections,” Glitch software engineer Katie Lundsgaard is quoted as saying in the press release. “This contract does that, and I hope tech workers across the industry can see that unions and start-ups are not incompatible.”
The apparently painless negotiation marks a shift in acceptance of unions, which the white collar tech sector (or at least the bosses of such companies) has traditionally treated with suspicion, as clunky institutions that are antithetical to a nimble, teamwork-oriented workplace. When Kickstarter workers broke ground, announcing a union drive in 2019, senior workers called unionisation “extreme.” One organiser with the Office and Professional Employees International Union, which helped Kickstarter employees, told WIRED that they had to convince “tech workers to realise that they are workers.” Soon after the unionisation drive was made public, Kickstarter fired organisers and hired a law firm that specialises in “maintaining a union-free workplace.” Employees voted to unionise anyway.
Over the past few years, unions have gone from taboo to a conceivable future for tech. Along with a wave of media outlets, workers at the podcasting company Gimlet (under Spotify) voted to unionise in 2019. Recently, Medium workers (primarily engineers) lost a unionisation effort by one vote but plan to keep moving forward. Meanwhile, a union tide has also swept online media outlets.
Larger tech companies have met organising efforts with aggressive pressure campaigns and alleged retaliation. Amazon fired a Staten Island warehouse worker who’d been involved in unionisation efforts, reportedly planned to malign another organiser, and has notoriously inundated Alabama warehouse workers who are currently holding a union vote with anti-union propaganda. Google, too, has fired organisers and AI researchers critical of its business practices (in all cases, Google denied retaliation).
In 2019, a group of Pittsburgh-based Google contract workers voted to join the United Steel Workers (USW), and a growing but still small group of around 890 Google workers has joined the CWA with an all-inclusive minority union, which does not have collective bargaining rights with the company.
Glitch CEO Anil Dash, a vocal proponent of ethics in tech, told Gizmodo via email that he’s pleased with the outcome. “We’re glad to have a collaborative relationship with our workers, and to have reached an agreement that works for everyone at Glitch.”