Code for America's Private Actions Don't Align with Our Public Values

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.

Perhaps none of these is more important in the context of unionization than including those who have been excluded. Unionization is inherently a redistribution of power, as a union gives workers a clear, legally codified right to have a seat at the decision making table where conversations about workplace conditions occur.

We have been hopeful since the beginning that Code for America management would greet us at that table eagerly, pulling up extra chairs, wiggling to make space, and throwing all our ideas up on sticky notes (a hallmark of our work!) to get down into the nitty gritty of creating our first union contract.

Gradually, the luster of that original hopeful vision has faded. We have appeared at the bargaining table time and time again, ready and willing to collaboratively bargain, only to be stonewalled, tone-policed, disrespected, and shut down. We are losing faith in management’s commitment not only to the collective bargaining process, but to Code for America’s values as a whole.

We implore the management bargaining committee to do what’s right: sit down with us in good faith, negotiate collaboratively, and help us create a sustainable environment that can make everyone proud to work here while accomplishing our mission to help millions of people access the services they deserve.

The latest bargaining update

Our union showed up to our scheduled bargaining session yesterday (management unilaterally canceled bargaining last week) ready to see management’s counter proposals that we have been owed for the past almost four months. Though we had asked for management’s proposals in advance multiple times, our emails went unanswered. During our bargaining session, they attempted to obfuscate something that became immediately obvious when we saw the track changes—they had made no substantive changes to what we had seen, and rejected, when it was last presented to us on March 23, 2023. On March 30, 2023, the union sent a counter package proposal on which management has so far refused to negotiate, compromise, or explore collaborative terms.

In the past four months, management has made various excuses for why they could not offer a counter proposal, principal among them being their preparation for the National Labor Relations Board unit clarification hearing. Yet even with the hearing over, management offered:

  • No new counter proposals
  • An adherence to their previous proposals that roll back current benefits, including the elimination of flexible PTO
  • A refusal to codify holidays that we have had for three years that are used in hiring material, interviews, and on the company website—making these dates subject to arbitrary change and disruptive to the lives of workers who have to plan around them
  • Only one change to our economic proposals—a $100 increase ($200 total) to a one-time per year stipend for employees who provide multilingual translation services outside of their day to day, benefitting only a handful of employees and excluding those who do daily multilingual work
  • A flat rejection to the request to have a union member representing workers on the board, with no answer or reasoning why
  • A flat rejection of our proposal to have a standing labor management committee (to handle things like career ladders and hiring inequities) that meets four times a year, a standard in most other unionized workplaces

Management’s counsel (from a firm currently under fire for decades-long behavior of racist, sexist, homophobic, and antisemitic practices) then tried to pressure the union to accept the deal, saying we’ve been “arguing about this for months”—when in fact, we have not. A four-month delay, followed by the same proposal we’ve already seen, is stalling for months.

It’s hard to categorize this as good faith negotiating, as we have no insight into “the why” behind their proposals to come to any sort of consensus or true discussion on a deal that makes sense for both parties. Throughout the NLRB proceedings, Code for America’s senior management team repeatedly testified to our “highly collaborative” culture. In all other aspects of our work throughout the organization, we frequently utilize tools like online whiteboards, brainstorming spaces, facilitated feedback sessions, etc. None of this shows up in bargaining. In this case and several times before, management presented proposals and provided no space for discussion, ideation, or brainstorming to reach a common ground.

We have tried for almost two years now to assume good intent. At this point, the only interpretation of management’s actions is, sadly, that they do not want a unionized workplace nor are they interested in hearing from workers about their needs and asks for a more equitable workplace. That directly runs counter to values Code for America uses a lot—listening first and including those who are excluded.

In yesterday’s meeting, management demanded that the bargaining committee bring this package proposal to the full unit for a vote—despite the fact that this proposal had already been seen and rejected by the unit four months prior. Their demand is intended to circumvent bargaining on the rest of the proposals and end the whole process with less than what workers started with prior to the union’s existence. Once again, management is attempting to undermine the members of the collective bargaining committee, claiming they don’t represent the unit despite frequent unit meetings, 1:1s, surveys, and breakout committees. Attempting to divide a unit like this is a hallmark union busting tactic.

Our union will continue to show up ready to collaboratively bargain, and we call on management to do the same. We owe it to our clients and partners—with whom we work so hard and care about so deeply—to make this organization a sustainable workplace for the broad diversity of people showing up to make positive change each day.

Code for America, there is still time to course-correct to get to a contract that represents the needs of our diverse workforce. We’re ready to negotiate. Are you?

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