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Glitch signs collective bargaining agreement with unionised workers

US software startup’s ‘milestone’ agreement with employees focuses on job security and labour rights rather than salaries and benefits

Employees at software startup Glitch have signed a collective bargaining agreement with the company via their union, which claims this is the first time such a deal has been signed by white-collar tech workers in the US.

The agreement, which took effect on 28 February 2021 and will last 11 months, comes a year after Glitch’s workforce voted to unionise under the Communications Workers of America’s (CWA) Local 1101 branch in March 2020.

The effort to bring Glitch workers into the CWA is part of the union’s Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA), which was launched in January 2020 to help workers in the tech industry to build up their power.

Although the agreement – which is a legal contract between the union and Glitch – does not include anything about higher wages, which are “already generous” according to a union spokesperson, it does include important protections for workers.

Most significantly, it gives workers the right to “just cause” for disciplinary action, which means workers can only be fired or otherwise “disciplined” through a specific process.

The contract also establishes a “right to recall” in response to Glitch laying off 18 employees (roughly one-third of its workforce) in May 2020, which means the company must offer those employees their jobs back first if it wants to rehire for the positions.

Glitch CEO Anil Dash said on Twitter at the time that the lay-offs resulted from the economic pressures of being “a small company in a fiercely competitive space in a tough economy”. For these workers, the contract also includes provision for a severance package.

Glitch software engineer Katie Lundsgaard said in a CWA press release: “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. This contract does that, and I hope tech workers across the industry can see that unions and startups are not incompatible.”

Keith Purce, president of CWA Local 1101, said the agreement was “a milestone in this industry – and we hope this victory inspires other software engineers to organise their workplaces”.

Glitch workers and the CWA described the company as an unusually willing partner in the negotiations, adding that its 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”.

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The agreement was in the works for about five months before being “ratified overwhelmingly” by employees.

Glitch management’s voluntary recognition of its employees unionising and the reportedly amicable nature of the negotiations is in stark contrast to similar organising efforts by other workers in the tech industry.

In April 2020, for example, Amazon-owned Whole Foods was found to be using an interactive heat map tool to track its employees’ unionisation efforts.

Using an algorithmic scoring system to assign ratings to each of Whole Foods’ 510 physical US-based stores, Amazon would examine more than 24 metrics – including employee “loyalty”, turnover, racial diversity, “tipline” calls to human resources and proximity to a union office – to figure out the likelihood of employees in that location either forming or joining a union.

According to data from the Economic Policy Institute, US companies spent at least $100m on consulting services for anti-union campaigns between 2014 and 2017, showing that tracking potential unionisation efforts is commonplace in large companies.

In a statement to Business Insider at the time, Whole Foods claimed that an “overwhelming majority” of its employees would prefer a “direct relationship” with the company and its leadership, as opposed to union representation.

“Our open-door communication policy allows us to understand and quickly respond to the needs of our workforce, while recognising, rewarding and supporting the goals of every member of our team,” it said.

In another incident in September 2019, crowdfunding platform Kickstarter fired two prominent union organisers within eight days, claiming at the time that the action was not because of their union activities. Fast-forward to October 2020, and the company agreed to pay a $36,599 settlement to one of the workers after the National Labor Rights Board found sufficient evidence that the dismissal was in retaliation for union organising.

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