When Google workers walked out en masse as a way to demand change for how their workplace handled issues from sexual harassment to discrimination, Google employee Liz Fong-Jones called for—and ultimately created— some sort of fund as a way to support those workers and allow them to continue their workplace activism, even if they faced retaliation. Partnering with Coworker.org, a worker advocacy organization that helps people improve their work lives, the fund took shape, and a new way to support worker activism throughout the entire tech industry was born.
Out of that work came the Solidarity Fund, “designed as a mutual aid infrastructure for people who are engaging in workplace organizing and activism,” says Jess Kutch, cofounder of Coworker.org and the Solidarity Fund‘s executive director. Funded by tech workers—some of whom have signed up to give recurring donations—for tech workers, the fund gives no-strings-attached monetary stipends and mentorship to workers engaged in some form of workplace organizing. The first funds were dispersed in January 2021, and in the last year, the Fund provided more than 68 workers with stipends, totaling nearly $200,000.
“Workplace activism has evolved quite a bit over the last 20 years,” says Kutch. When she began Coworker, which launched in 2013, the organization focused on providing digital tools like petitions which workers could create to campaign for changes, such as calling on Uber to allow in-app tipping. But workplace activism began to grow and change, with walkouts at places like Google and workers sharing salary transparency spreadsheets.
Coworker.org supported them, providing “know your rights” trainings and promoting petitions, but they realized workers needed more than those digital tools. “Workers are reaching for things more complex than a one-off petition, and in doing so, the stakes are higher,” Kutch says. “They’re up against more, and facing more opposition.” The Solidarity Fund, the winner of the workplace category of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards, helps workers both navigate their activism—something many are doing for the first time, and alone—and receive support through those sometimes tumultuous times.
Workers need to apply, and the application asks for people who have been engaged in some sort of activism or organizing in their workplace. But the fund is open to all sorts of tech workers—from software engineers to ride-share drivers—and the funds can be used in a variety of ways. Some have used the stipend to hire graphic designers to make pamphlets that educated their coworkers on the burdens of “megacycle shifts,” extra-long shifts that are mandatory at Amazon during busy times, and other funds went to provide workers with rides home from those shifts, because they ended so late it often wasn’t safe for people to take public transportation alone.
Workers have used funds to organize mental health sessions, with therapists specifically for Black and Latinx workers. Others have used their stipends to pay their rent or health insurance; one such gig worker wrote to the fund, Kutch says, saying it saved their lives. “It doesn’t require people to spend it on certain things,” she says. “If they need to use it for groceries and rent, that’s okay.” Coworker hopes to continue growing the Solidarity Fund, so it can double the number of stipends awarded in 2022, and Kutch hopes funds can soon be launched for other industries, beyond tech, too.