On Friday, October 27, 2023, members of Code for America Workers United (CWU) voted overwhelmingly to ratify their first collective bargaining agreement. In addition to across-the-board wage increases and expanded paid family and medical leave time, the contract includes new benefits like adoption and fertility support and gender-affirming care. The contract also breaks new ground by expanding worker protections to include protections against caste-based discrimination and intrusive monitoring, limiting the use of contracted and temporary workers in favor of full-time employees, and establishing a neutral arbitration process to resolve disputes between the union and management. With this contract, CWU members improve working conditions at Code for America and set new labor standards for civic tech, as well as the broader tech ecosystem.
A few hours before Labor Day weekend began, Code for America’s senior leadership announced a “human-centered mass layoff” of 35 of our coworkers.
In doing so, Code for America abandoned our stated values of listening first, acting with intention, and including those who have been excluded. Our leadership did not include our laid-off coworkers in any kind of collaborative process that showed them compassion, trust, or dignity—and management shirked their legal obligation to negotiate with our union over the effects of layoffs. Instead, coworkers who have dedicated years to this work felt traumatized by a sudden loss of their income, benefits, and connection to colleagues, clients, and partners. These included workers who were about to go on sabbatical, were on medical leave, and those who had spent countless hours bargaining for better support and protections for all workers at CfA. Management’s actions made our hard-working colleagues—who are parents, caretakers, and breadwinners—feel disposable. In some cases, our coworkers were cut off from their accounts while they were scrambling to hand off the tasks necessary to ensure our clients are supported, and for others, this happened before they were able to.
We are Disgusted with Code for America Management’s Decision to Lay Off 35 of Our Colleagues
The manner in which Code for America management announced company-wide layoffs shows that they have abandoned their commitment to our organizational values, our mission, and our staff.
Code for America CEO Amanda Rentería joined bargaining today to announce to our unit that management had decided on a 17% reduction in staff across the board. In real terms, this means 35 of our colleagues are being immediately laid off. That’s 35 people with families they need to take care of. That’s 35 people with rent due tomorrow. That’s 35 people who were given less than two hours notice that they no longer have a job, who were informed of this via email immediately before a four-day holiday weekend1.
The holiday, ironically, being Labor Day. ↩
After weeks of collective action, we expected management to show up to our August 17th bargaining session with counters to our latest economic proposals. Counters that should have been presented to us the week prior. In fact, at the previous week’s session, they told us to expect them.
In what’s become a consistent pattern of excuses and delay tactics, management showed up with no counters to our largest outstanding economic proposals: Leaves of Absence, Holidays, Paid Time Off (PTO), and Four-Day Work Week (4DWW). Despite having some of these proposals since October 2022, they claim they still need more time and resources to make a counterproposal. We have waited long enough!
SAG-AFTRA may be on strike, but we’re still acting! Taking collective action to tell management how important time to rest and recover is to our unit, that is. Over the past weeks and months we’ve been taking action to secure our rights and working conditions so that we can keep contributing to Code for America’s mission for the long haul. As we’re seeing across the country: collective action gets the goods.
Companies that espouse the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion are increasingly fighting unionization at their workplaces. Code for America is no different.
America is in the midst of a labor renaissance. Participation and interest in organized labor is growing as workers come together to express their desires for respect, fairness, and dignity in the workplace—just this week, actors and writers in Hollywood came together to strike for better conditions for the first time since the 1960s.
In a setting like this—a notoriously exploitative, for-profit industry—everyone expects the boss to fight the union.
But workers are also unionizing and expressing their collective power in the world of socially conscious companies, “good” brands, and nonprofits—what does it look like when the bosses there also don’t want a strong union?
Recent bargaining sessions have shown that—despite public assertions to the contrary—Code for America management is not interested in bargaining with our union in good faith.
Code for America Workers United was founded with one clear goal in mind: to better live out our external values internally. With our clients and partners, we listen first, act with intention, and include those who have been excluded. It’s the animating mantra of our work, threaded through our design choices, engineering projects, and communications work.