Engelberg Center Live!

Chapter 6: Retaliation | Part 1

Episode Summary

A closer look at two organizer experiences

Episode Transcription

Welcome back to the oral history of Kickstarter’s union.  In this two part episode, 5 organizers take us back to the very beginning... to tell the story of the union drive, through the lens of retaliation.  There are at least 5 workers who were forced out of the company in management’s attempt to quell union organizing.  In part one of this episode, we’ll walk through Sarah and Alex’s experiences of targeted retaliation.  These two workers helped kick off the union drive, grow support in outreach conversations, stood up to hold leadership accountable in company gatherings, and endured management’s earliest retaliation strategy.  In part two, the next three workers who were forced out will complete this bird's eye view of management’s retaliation strategy. 


In Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, the NLRA, most US workers are given the right to act as a collective. If two or more workers are talking about salaries, safety, benefits, anything that affects the group’s working conditions, this activity is legally protected. Section 7 of the NLRA makes things tricky for a company to fire an organizer for doing any of these things, but unfortunately it doesn’t stop them. 

The NLRB is just a speed bump on the road of capital. That’s it.  That is it.  Is it not gonna save you.  - Taylor 

There are two common strategies employers use to target activists and organizers and push them out of the company.  One is swiftly dismantling the organizers’ core responsibilities.  Management cuts the organizer off from meaningful work and career growth, and essentially takes away any professional incentives to stay.  The other tactic companies use to push out organizers is creating pretext.  Pretext obscures retaliation by drumming up the appearance of just cause unrelated to union activity, which is why it’s so effective.  Pretext is a simple but powerful tool that employers use when they want to fire an employee but don’t yet have a legally defensible justification.  It’s not an error - it’s not an oddity - it’s a lie. What makes both of these tactics so effective for companies trying to chill union activity and oust organizers is that it’s very difficult for employees to gather direct evidence for the true reason they were fired.  Both strategies bury the smoking gun.  And both were used by Kickstarter’s leadership to target organizers and bust the union. 


Over the course of about a year management would go on to force out five of our most active union organizers, a classic and illegal union avoidance strategy that can be incredibly hard to distinguish from run of the mill malice or managerial incompetence.  In this chapter of Kickstarter’s oral history, we’ll walk through each organizer’s experience of being forced out of the company after joining the union drive.  We’ll take a detailed look at how management did it.  In every case, this union retaliation looks a lot like the kind of instability and insurmountable power struggles that individual workers navigate every day.

The Kickstarter way to get rid of someone was to ruin their life to like ruin their professional life, and then just wait for them to quit. We, we just called it being pushed out.  - Taylor 


Sarah’s Experience 

We’re going all the way back to management’s first firing of an organizer - an event that would become a catalyst for the union drive.  In September 2018, just after staff successfully pressures management out of censoring a Kickstarter creator, management swiftly fires the visible whistleblower, Justine, for kicking off the company wide discussion and sparking the collective action that marks the beginning of the union drive. Management got her alone, told her they couldn’t trust her, and presented her with a termination agreement. 

After they got rid of the person they thought had kicked off the collective action for Always Punch Nazis, management went after every other worker who had spoken up that day with a wave of discipline. After every disciplinary meeting, managers would usually end with the offer of an open door, telling workers that they could come to them or HR directly if they had any questions or concerns in the future. One of Justine’s team mates, Sarah, took management up on this offer to express concern for the way Kickstarter’s General Council and management was treating her coworkers. But Sarah quickly realized that this open door was not the offer of support and protection management had promised.  Here she is being formally disciplined by her boss, the Director of Trust and Safety, and the head of HR for raising concerns to HR and her managers about how leadership and Kickstarter’s General Council inappropriately retaliated against her team and unjustly fired her coworker.

I know you’re very passionate, you stand up for what you believe in… I think that’s fantastic, um but there’s going to be situations like this one that are going to go against those feelings that you have.  - Director of Trust and Safety 

Management’s response to Sarah’s formal concern employed four tactics that they would use over and over in their larger retaliation strategy.  First, illustrated in the clip we just heard, management forces Sarah to redefine her sense of right and wrong by asking her to go against her gut and accept mistreatment.  Second, HR reframes Sarah’s complaint as interfering with managerial responsibilities and stating her feedback is disruptive to the productivity of her managers - a productivity roadblock that is the result of what they call a lack of alignment and making it clear that disagreeing or challenging management is not acceptable.  Third, they refuse to give Sarah a path forward or any clear direction for how to avoid this kind of discipline in the future.  And lastly, management does not document or address her concern - only her discipline is formally documented, not her complaint about management’s conduct.

What Sarah didn’t know at the time, along with most of Kickstarter’s union organizers, is that even without a recognized union, she was legally protected in this moment. The NLRA specifically states that an employee has the right to express opinions about their working conditions.  Expressing concern about how the General Council had reprimanded, intimidated, and threatened her team is within her rights as a worker, with or without a recognized union.  After her job is threatened for the second time in this meeting with HR, she apologizes for questioning management, and Sarah believes the team is moving on.

So the few months after that I did everything I could to repair my relationship.  I felt that that wound was healing… or healed.  - Sarah

Things settle down and seem to go back to normal. Just a few months earlier, Sarah had earned a promotion, she had been invited to contribute to Kickstarter’s highest priority product development, Drip, and her reviews reflected her good work.  Even after Drip was discontinued and she no longer held that core set of responsibilities, her managers sat her down to thank her for her work and told her she was an asset to the team. She was even approved to go remote so that she could temporarily leave Brooklyn to be with sick family on the west coast.  At Kickstarter, approval for remote work is somewhat reserved for workers in good standing that are trusted by the company and their managers to remain engaged and highly productive. Sarah was relieved.

I was really grateful that they said yes. Flying to and from New York was at least $500. And to do that twice in the course of a month was really expensive.  - Sarah

So Sarah goes remote for the last few months of 2018 while still remaining active in the union drive.  Every time she visits the office, she stacks her breaks and after work time with union outreach, bringing in member after member and rapidly growing the union.  At the end of 2018, since she knew she was in good standing, Sarah asks to extend her time away from the office.  

I got positive feedback they said everything's great. You're communicating and you're obviously getting all of your work done and we appreciate it.  That was good. So when I asked to extend my time remote [Manager of Trust & Safety] said to request in a formal email so that they can get approval through HR, which I genuinely didn't know what the approval process was because there wasn't a lot of processes in general at Kickstarter. - Sarah

But after she sent this official request to her managers for HR, per their instruction, the tone changed. 

It was really odd email that kind of made me upset. [Manager of Trust & Safety] responded to me saying that being remote is a privilege and one that shouldn't be taken lightly. And although that they would grant my request for Q1, that going remote is only reserved for people that are high performers. They alluded to performance issues in the sense that they said That we allow this for high performing employees and we're not extending this for you so it was almost as they were like doing me a favor. Instead, which I had only been given high marks.  And they also reminded me that it was a privilege to be working remotely, but that felt very tone deaf, given that I was asking to work remotely be closer to dying family. It was really... upsetting.  - Sarah

Even though Kickstarter preferred to hire on-site workers, there was no official policy against remote work.  In fact, several workers had been approved to go permanently remote by the time Sarah had made this request, even one person on Sarah’s team.  Either management was unevenly applying remote work approval, or they were taking this moment to formally establish doubt about Sarah’s performance.

After this approval process, Sarah returns to the office from California for a couple weeks so she can reconnect with the team, gather a few things from her New York apartment, and also have two more weeks for covert union outreach conversations with more coworkers.  This is when something very important happens. Sarah had been meeting with many many coworkers, putting herself in a precarious position by revealing her union participation to a wider and wider circle of people.  In the last few days of her visit, Sarah meets with a coworker to have a chat about the secret union drive.  Unbeknownst to her, this coworker would go on to be one of the most vocally anti union employees at the company for a significant part of the union drive.

I distinctly remember taking a walk along Transmitter Park and the tone of our conversation had never been quite like this prior.  She felt that our request and wants to unionize were coming from a point of privilege and saw that it was unacceptable for tech workers to even unionize in the first place. So the way I backed from that conversation was to explain to her. I was like, look, I understand you don't want to hear about this anymore.  But I asked her if she could please keep this between us and not you know spread this and she jokingly responded that she's not a narc.  And I went back to our union meeting later that evening and announced to the group that I feel like we should take a, take a step back from reaching out to her. - Sarah

Just a week after Sarah had this tense union outreach meeting with a strongly anti union coworker, she was abruptly fired and a week after that management kicked off a campaign of anti union rhetoric and concessions meant to undermine the union.  There were many moments like this where there was no proof, only coincidence.  

Initially when I was fired. I didn't think that it had anything to do with the union because I didn't know at the time that leadership had known about the Union, we now know, in retrospect, that at that time when I was fired they were aware that we were organizing.   - Sarah

I wanted to just dive in and give an update.  The team has decided, as of today, to part ways and terminate your employment. - Head of HR

Management fired Sarah a week before performance reviews - just before her high performance and peer reviews could be officially reflected and documented. 

They were just looking for a reason to get rid of me. And the reason i don't know i don't i still honest don't definitively know why and why, at that point.  You know, if they really wanted me gone they could have fired me at always punch Nazis. They could have fired me at the end of drip when they didn't need me anymore, but instead they chose to fire me right before my performance review.  - Sarah

In the sudden termination call with Sarah, management cites only a few minor issues, otherwise known as pretext, that every high performing worker in her role experiences.  One of the items mentioned took place so long ago that it preceded Sarah’s most recent promotion.

One of the examples that they cited for poor performance was that I hadn't responded to an email within 24 hours, eight months prior, which was wild to me.  - Sarah

They bring up a moment when she hadn’t cleared her queues without acknowledging this was a day when her team was short staffed and her individual workload was significantly expanded. 

They also cited that I hadn't been doing enough submission review which is honestly mindless work, but I was the only person doing submission review for all of the Drip projects. So yes, my numbers on Kickstarter were lower. But that's because I was the only one doing them on Drip and we didn't have the tooling functionality built yet to track or record how many reviews I had done, so it was it was all It was all backwards.   - Sarah

Well I’m honestly, very deeply sorry and sad to hear that.  You know I invest a lot of time and I care deeply about Kickstarter and my team.  And I wish you had brought that forward to me.  I have not received feedback that my queue has been missing.  The time that you’re referencing in November which I do specifically remember you can very clearly check our rotations, the whole team was out and I was given all high priority tasks which you and I discussed. And um.. I am… confused by this and I’m hurt. - Sarah

No and I totally appreciate that and it’s something that, you know, we wouldn’t do this without insuring that it was something that was communicated.  And I know that there’s been feedback delivered and conversations around.. - Head of HR

Specifically when? - Sarah

Um, we have some examples and I feel pretty comfortable with those, and I don’t want to get into.. - Head of HR

Well I don’t. - Sarah

I’m saying I have some examples and I again I think it’s one of those things where the decision was made and I wanted to be able to talk through some of the logistics of what this means with you today, if that’s ok.  - Head of HR

Ok. - Sarah

Management omitted key context when delivering the reasons for termination. But Sarah stops pushing for answers, it’s clear they’ve made a decision, so she wraps up the call in her characteristic style of compassion and grace. Here is audio from the final moments of management’s first firing of a union organizer. 

I don't envy their position. I know that sounds like a weird that I'm like almost giving them a break, because I definitely think there is fault in their world but [Kickstarter General Council] was a bully like he was honestly terrible and to be a manager or a middleman between disgruntled employees and a bully of a boss is a really not fun position to be in, you know? - Sarah

There is a catch 22 that all organizers face at the early stages of building a union.  You want to stay under management’s radar so you can continue to organize without fear of union busting or retaliation. But, if there is retaliation, organizers must be able to prove to the National Labor Relations Board that management was aware of a worker’s union activity before they were fired or disciplined.  So, in the earliest stages of a union drive, management can discover an employee is organizing a union and fire them using pretext before there’s a paper trail proving that management was aware of the organizer’s link to the union.  This is exactly what happened to Sarah.  In January 2019, just days before management puts a union avoidance strategy in motion, the first thing they do... is quietly fire Sarah, one of the union’s most active organizers.  At this point, by keeping their knowledge of the union concealed, management had the upper hand and they would use this position to try and snuff out the union drive as quietly as possible, before it gathered critical mass.  Even though, at the time, Sarah and organizers across the company weren’t sure if she had been fired for her union activity, this firing had a chilling effect on organizing activity, especially for the workers who knew the caliber of her work. 

 I just remember clocking that I was like something was very wrong because she should not have been fired. She does great work, creative intense opinionated on vocal and then like just all the qualities that I like really admired and like a co worker and teammate and I just, I couldn't believe it. I was like, I am out. Heck no no no. I really liked his job. I really liked it. It helps me support my art and also lets me live in New York City, like it does, it provides everything for me so I am, you know, anything that risks, me and my job and my livelihood and also like my artistic work. Absolutely not. - AnonB


Alex’s Experience 

Retaliation doesn’t always end in a firing.  Sometimes management grinds organizers down until they leave on their own. Experiencing coordinated retaliation is distracting, destabilizing, and demoralizing for organizers.  One of the union’s most active organizers experienced retaliation and did not bend under the weight of mistreatment.  Instead, she left.  Here’s Alex walking us through her experience of retaliation and how it all began. 

I remember when I first started talking to my dad and - even that I was nervous, I like swore up and down confidence that he wouldn't talk to anyone about it, but it was becoming a really big part of my life and so I was like there's literally whispering on the phone. realizing how cool is that? And my dad's first and only reaction was, Oh, you're going to get fired. And I was so mad at him. I was so mad at them both from A personal perspective and from a political perspective. I was absolutely furious and it pains me greatly to admit now that he, he had a point.  - Alex

Alex was brought on to the Trust and Safety team to replace Justine, the fired whistleblower from Always Punch Nazis.  Immediately she was a strong performer, praised by her managers and welcomed by her coworkers.  To understand the series of events that led to her resignation, we need to go back to Alex’s first personal experience of inequity at Kickstarter.

And I remember we were all walking and you know we had such a lovely lunch. - AnonB

We were talking about Pay a Kickstarter was significantly lower than industry standard. And i said that I regretted not negotiating salary at all whatsoever. And this person responded, off handedly oh well it wouldn’t have mattered and they pay everybody coming into the trust and safety team 55k, no room for negotiation.  - Alex

And Alex asks me and RV, like how much do you make, like salary transparency. And literally all of us were like, we’re all radicals, ya, I’ll fuck’n tell you how much I make. And that was what Alex now out even though she was doing the same job that RV and I were doing that she made. 5% 10% less because she made 50k and we made 55. - AnonB

And I was like, 55 did you say? And they were like, ya.  And  said oh, that's interesting because I make 50 okay And that's how I learned. And then I texted some of my other colleagues, including the two who had been hired four or five months before me. They had started in the summer I started in the fall, and they indeed were making 55k. - Alex

Ya, and that was a big shock. And I remember that the walk back from that lunch was not as delightful as the walk to.  - AnonB

And they were like, oh that sucks, that’s fucked.  - Alex

Were any of your colleagues, sort of like hesitant to share their salary with you.... - Clarissa

Yes… - Alex

How did, how did you navigate that? Clarissa 

Like I had a bull in a china shop. I just asked I just pushed right through. There was, there was nothing graceful about it.  I think maybe if somebody was a little bit hesitant I shared why I was asking like, I think that making less than every other person started out making and perhaps that helped bring them out of the woodwork, a little bit. But yeah, it was definitely an awkward conversation with almost all of them, I would say.... - Alex

So Alex waits for her next one on one with her manager to address the pay discrepancy between her and her counterparts.  And when she sits down with her manager, her manager tells her: 

Yep, we are doing exactly what we said we did. We do pay everyone the same starting salary, starting with you. - Alex

She hits a wall and, rather than argue the clearly flawed logic of this pay band of one, Alex decides to earn pay equity by over-performing so she can advocate for the raise she deserves in her next review.  In the meantime, Alex joins the union, joins the organizing committee, her face is added to the companywide union emails, she starts to reach out to coworkers to have outreach one on ones, and... she becomes vocal about her support of the union in management’s all company captive audience meetings.  

I really believed what our organizers told us, and took a lot of security, I guess, and comfort and the notion that we were better protected if we were fired in the course of trying to organize than if we were not because it'd be retaliation.  We could file charges with the NLRB.  And so there was a part of me that especially having seen retaliation on my team. I mean, I was there because somebody was fired in retaliation for speaking out without a union. And so perhaps that lowered the stakes for me in a way it was like I had it was like I knew what the status quo was without it. And I was more willing to take a gamble on the prospect of being retaliated against for organizing knowing that, hey well at least the NLRB exists. - Alex

A few months after she joins the union as a highly visible organizer, Alex goes into her next review ready to point to her high performance and earn the pay equity she’d been denied.  In the first few minutes of the review, her manager, in a scripted rigid tone, tells Alex she has met expectations but that she cannot grant her a raise or share how to obtain a raise.  When Alex asks why she’s being denied a raise considering that she has exceeded the company’s stated performance threshold for a higher level of compensation, her manager tells her that the company’s performance compensation matrix is irrelevant and directs Alex to HR.

Just because you’re crushing all of the qualifications and targets that we set out for you doesn’t mean that you deserve anything based on those targets.  How could you be so stupid. - Alex


As Alex’s organizing activity grew, no matter how well she performed, her relationship with her manager continued to interfere with her advancement and job security. 

Alex’s relationship with [Director of Trust & Safety] was like actively visibly to tier two, tier deteriorating. You know, and the conversation then like that. Like, even though her work was like lauded. - AnonB

Justine, Sarah, Alex - all of these workers who had questioned leadership experienced similar gulfs between how they performed and how they were treated by management.

They were excellent colleagues. They asked really good questions. They were really good at project management and with our work on trust and safety, it was really easy to track the amount of work that was getting done. We were working through queues and so you could see at the end of the day, someone had worked at like, had reviewed X number of projects, um, and done X amount of work, um, in different areas. And they were like top performing time and time again in their work. And so when they were, um, fired and like given feedback around performance issues, it was like the biggest bullshit.  - RV

Not long after she is denied pay equity during her performance review, Alex is called into a meeting with the head of HR and her new manager. This is where we start to see a pattern take root where management identifies an organizer, emphasises a pretextual issue that they can exploit and exaggerate, and then works to create documentation supporting legal grounds for termination. Listening to this, it’s clear that this meeting was the first step in a strategic plan to build a case against Alex.  Management starts off the meeting with feedback they say they received from her recently departed manager. Since this manager is no longer at Kickstarter, HR can use this feedback in the most advantageous way possible for the purpose of creating pretext. This is a strategy they will use again in the future.  It is very clear throughout the meeting that this is a tool to create a situation where Alex is at an information disadvantage. 

And obviously she’s gone now and we can’t really dive into that with her. - Head of HR  

Again, I’m a little concerned about the quality of the relay situation here. It’s seems like it was a bit of a game of telephone. - Alex

The core feedback from the Head of HR is that it was unacceptable for Alex to question the feedback she received in her review and that it was inappropriate for her to suggest that her manager was not adequately reflecting the level of her performance.  He makes it very clear that at no point is it appropriate to question your manager or disagree with feedback.

We need to make sure that everyone that works here has the ability and the opportunity to do their job. As a manager, you didn’t from my understanding give her that opportunity. Every manager who works at the company that has direct reports has the responsibility to evaluate their performance. - Head of HR

I couldn’t agree more, ya, I’m not sure obviously what all [Manager of Trust and Safety] and it’s a bummer that she’s no longer here but what I depressed was that as my manager it was really alarming to me that she didn’t seem to have a grasp of the quality of my work. And that was exactly the tone that I used in that. So, it’s a little baffling to me to hear this from you given that I think we are on the same page that it is absolutely my manager’s purview. And, as you said, the last time we spoke that you quote had no insight into my performance so I was really relying on my manager to be the person to have that insight into my performance.  - Alex

HR and management created a narrative of Alex not being a team player.  For Alex it was brought up in the review as inappropriate comparing and contrasting of other’s work - but this is out of context and was an earnest attempt to understand expectations for a raise.

She kept using the word proficient which incidentally was the same word she used back in January. However, the feedback from my colleagues as well as the content of the feedback that she gave me described work that was more than proficient.  And so, in that context, I asked her if she felt that anybody on our team was doing more than proficient work.  She expressed that she didn’t feel it was appropriate to weigh in on other folks.  I said I totally get that.  I hear where you’re coming from.  I’m just trying to understand whether you think my work is proficient relative to other analysts or proficient in a vacuum. And again, it’s a little bit difficult for me to dig into this when if feels like we’re just going to go straw man by straw man here with what I did or did not say.   - Alex

No and I think what I’m trying to get to here is that it’s not your role to compare two other analysts.  It’s [Manager of Trust & Safety] role to evaluate your work via the expectations she set for you in your role. - Head of HR

Building on the discipline for Alex’s refusal to go along with this characterization of her performance, the Head of HR skillfully shifts the conversation to suggest that Alex is incapable of taking feedback constructively.  This leads them to the same claim that Sarah heard months before, that an employee is undermining their manager by disagreeing with them. This is a no-win situation for the employee because either they have to accept damaging feedback that does not reflect their performance or they dig themselves deeper into the false narrative of being unable to accept feedback by challenging management’s assessment. 

The evaluation and the recommendation that [Manager of Trust & Safety] made was that you were meeting expectations.  Right, and I think that that is a good review, there’s nothing negative in there. - Head of HR

I don’t disagree with that.  The issue is that my work is more than proficient. What would you do, if you thought you were doing a great job at your work and you were told you were doing ok? What would you do in that scenario?   - Alex

I think that you were meeting expectations. - Head of HR

The underlying message from HR is that she will be punished for questioning management or advocating for herself.  At this point, we really start to see the Head of HR lean into a tradition of systemic sexism in the workplace. It’s widely accepted as fact that women are disproportionately penalized by labels like aggressive, disrespectful, argumentative, abrasive, pushy… the list goes on and on but all of these words are part of what’s known as personality feedback and it denies fem presenting employees upward mobility. 

Could you go a little bit into what exactly was the issue around tone?   - Alex

May we please unpack what aggressive means at some point?   - Alex

The manager who you were directly reporting to felt that you were aggressive... - Head of HR

And again I would love to get into what that means.  - Alex

Do you think there’s any circumstances, any wording, any verbiage that would be sufficiently non aggressive in which one could express hey, I don’t think this feedback reflects my work? - Alex

And I think that it’s really important that we get aligned on what is a better way for you to approach this in the future. - Head of HR

Ya, so to that end, I realize this hasn’t been all that productive of a conversation but it would be extremely productive for me what exactly aggressive is and what exactly tone is and also argumentative for that matter.  - Alex

I mean, I think it’s this right, I think it’s... - Head of HR

And here, here is a really telling moment. The head of HR knows he’s in hot water so he creates an escalation plan to bring in the head of legal before getting any deeper. 

Cause I want to follow up of this conversation specifically.  I think that’s the best way to move forward today.  And I’ll get something in the calendar if not by tomorrow first thing next week. - Head of HR

This meeting was insulting, demeaning, and frustrating.  Alex had had enough.  

I was just really emotionally spent I think both for reasons related to being in the Union. Well, I really just really, really good. I mean, I feel valued in my position since January of 2019 and then being given the cold shoulder by a bunch of people because of my involvement with the union was also really emotionally draining and just sustainable in the end. So all this is to say I had been Thinking realizing that I needed to leave Kickstarter for my own basic well being. For Like at least a month or two before that. And then this was the straw that broke the camel's back and I really was grateful that they made it so easy because like I said, I have been sort of hemming and hawing and acknowledging to myself and those very, very close to me that my well being was really suffering that I was really Just burnt out doing my work and dealing with the personal consequences of being involved with the union, and so I was actually appreciative that the ridiculousness of that HR meeting gave me a really, really clear and compelling reason to call it quits.  - Alex

Just four months after becoming a visible union organizer and a member of the organizing committee, Alex’s experience at Kickstarter had become so toxic - for her mental health, she decided to leave in the heat of the union drive.

Ya, I had that meeting with them on the afternoon of July 18th. The next morning, I took a sick day and gave notice. - Alex

The next day, Alex’s manager and the head of HR pull her into a meeting room to discuss her separation from Kickstarter.  They tell her that instead of finishing out her two weeks this would be her last day.  They also tell her that if she planned to send a farewell email to staff, it would need to be approved by her manager, a nonexistent policy meant to censor her farewell message.  

Is that something that everyone's farewell emails are required to receive that that approval from their manager? And [Head of HR] said yes. And so then, of course, I went and checked in with other people who had left the company in recent months and ask them if they're from all evils have been subject to that treatment. And they weren't, which of course is my suspicion and exactly why I asked that question. - Alex

Before she puts the finishing touches on her farewell email, as a parting reminder of how hostile management had become since she joined the union, the highest ranking member of her team, Kickstarter’s General Council, decides to give Alex a memorable sendoff.

I remember from the end of the road, my very last day at the company.  I was just walking down the stairs. He was walking up and they said, Hey [General Council], and you could, you know, put stairs and said nothing. And then when he was about five steps past me without turning around. He said byyyyyyeeeeeeeeee.  Yeah yeah obviously that came at the end of the arc what is the most memorable. - Alex

I can’t imagine [Kickstarter General Council] doing that. - Clarissa

Ya, this is a 50-something year old dude who makes probably 4 times what I, a 25 year old woman makes.  The power discrepancy between us could have been a teeny bit greater but not much.  And yet still, that was the sort of middle school energy he felt he needed to bring to that interaction.  - Alex

Did anyone else hear that or was it just you?  - Clarissa

I think it was just me, which is honestly perhaps why he did it. - Alex

Alex did not run her email by her manager and instead sent a very frank and energizing email to the entire company while Kickstarter’s CEO cut himself a piece of birthday cake. 

Yes, yes, that's true, that's true, that's accurate. There was a big birthday celebration for our CEO happening as I hit send and walked out of the office that's completely correct.  - Alex

Slowly people start whispering about the email that just hit our inboxes and reach for our phones to read her farewell. 

I have not felt valued or respected in my position for quite some time. Although I'm sad to be saying goodbye to some incredible people. Here I am relieved and proud that I finally made the decision that was best for my own mental health and my own quality of life. For that, I extend a very genuine and heartfelt thanks to [Head of HR & Director of Trust and Safety] everyone thought, oh, and will pay for making this decision and easy one. In the end, I don't know whether that was your intention by ungrateful either way.  - Alex

Some coworkers were electrified by this open indictment of management and systemic sexism in the workplace.  But... some people were... dismissive and some even offended by such an open and pointed display of discontent. I remember asking RV, a fellow organizer why they thought some of our colleagues were put off by the letter that had resonated so deeply with me.  RV said something very simple and sharp. They said, some people find it difficult to make space for anger, even when it’s justified, and especially when it comes from marginalized voices. 

As I was leaving office. I'd say one of my colleagues who is organizing committee with me like ran up and gave me a hug. Rather loudly their enthusiasm about it and upgrade, obviously, and like what a what a fitting illustration of my experience with Organizing in stark contrast to my experience working for the company. I mean, we have like just extravagant celebration for the CEOs birthday happening one room over but then you know, out, out here in the in the trust and safety corner. One of my colleagues was like running up to me, embracing me explaining it to be isolated like worth noting like women who are often don't live to be quieter and do less and and here was one who is unabashedly loud in the attic and loving in in her in her enthusiasm for, for me and for the contents of that email.  - Alex

In part two of our episode on retaliation, we’ll cover the second half of management’s retaliation strategy in detail.  In parallel to Sarah and Alex, management had set three more organizers on a path to the door, me, Taylor, and Trav. We’ll share our experiences of management’s targeting and how we supported each other through the process.

I think that management definitely was doing everything they could in their power to diminish for you Trav and Taylor and honestly for like generally for anyone they were targeting. I feel like they were doing their best to diminish that person's role and impact in the company. Like move and isolate that person from their allies and people that believed in them and like witnesses to the treatment they were going through and like to make them feel like fucking shit. - Karlee


The Kickstarter Union Oral History is brought to you by the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy at NYU Law.  It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License.  And the music was composed by Michael Simonelli over at the podcast production company Charts and Leisure.