They Want to Change the World. They Would Also Like a Raise.

As nonprofit workers unionize, negotiations can make things awkward in mission-based workplaces. Nonprofits are built on the idea of helping others, so when workers start to unionize and negotiate for better wages and working conditions, it can put strain on the organization.

They Want to Change the World. They Would Also Like a Raise.

They only saw red lines. This meant that there was no deal. Yet.

Community Solutions, an organization based in New York City which combats homelessness and has recently unionized its employees, was in the process of negotiating its first contract. They assumed that the proposal they made to prevent discrimination against formerly homeless individuals in the hiring process of Community Solutions would be easy for both parties.

Instead of hammering the clause out, it has become months of disagreements, returned proposals and red ink slashed across them. The management is concerned about the legal implications of the language, while the staff are more focused on those for whom the workplace provides housing. Paulette Martin, chief operating officer, said that everyone agreed on the principle.

So far, this is the extent of our understanding.

Nonprofit employees, including adjunct professors and environmental activists, are also organizing, as workers in private companies such as Amazon and Starbucks do. Union negotiations within mission-based organisations can be awkward.


Amy Smoucha is a consultant. She said, "In the social justice movement, leaders and staff often work together." Even the best-intentioned nonprofit can find it difficult to collaborate when unionization is used.

Community Solutions was a victim of tensions after receiving a grant from MacArthur Foundation worth $100 million. John Collier, data analyst and union organizer at the nonprofit said, 'We went to a much bigger organization. We wanted the people doing the actual work to have their voice.

Last year, Mr. Collier and all of his co-workers, except for one, voted to join Office and Professional Employees International, Local 153. Workers were surprised to learn that Community Solutions had hired Proskauer as a powerful law office to negotiate a new contract after they informed the management of their decision. The firm also represents The New York Times during current contract negotiations between The New York Times Guild and The New York Times.

Sandy Colts is a systems adviser at Community Solutions, and a founding member of the organizing committee. She said that when the non-discrimination clause proposed by the employees was rejected with nearly every word removed, it marked a turning point in their lives. He said that the value statement was based on his own experiences. They should believe that we're asking for these protections with good reason.

Community Solutions insists they are in favor of the concept behind the proposal, but only have concerns about the wording. In a press release, Ms. Martin stated that they believed their shared commitment to combating harassment or discrimination was reflected in the proposal. She continued that the clause that management wants to use 'includes strong language against discrimination that is almost identical to other collective agreements negotiated by this union.

Gallup reports that labor unions are experiencing a revival. Their approval ratings have reached their highest level since 1965. Locally, the office union now has 11,000 members, with 800 more workers joining last year. In 2018, there were less than 100. The Nonprofit Professionals Employees Union grew from 300 members to 1,700 in the same time period.

Kevin Simowitz is the co-director at All Due Respect. The organization works to establish new labor standards for community activists.

Transparency, standard pay scales, and racial equality are also mentioned by organizers as concerns.

The prospect of a union is often unsettling for nonprofit managers. Many organizations strive to create a collaborative, close-knit environment in which staff and leadership work together towards a common goal. Some experts believe that when workers unionize it can put the leadership on defense.

Alethia Jones is a distinguished lecturer on labor studies at City University of New York. She does not think it must be that way. She said that unions can be more than just a cost-saving measure. They can also lead to improved relationships and greater stability.


Ms. Smoucha suggested nonprofits start by recognizing unions voluntarily. She said that 'they are going to be a union regardless'. "Labor laws give workers limited rights. But one right is guaranteed: the right to join a union and select collective bargaining."

VOCAL, a social-change organization that runs a syringe swap program, recognized its staff union voluntarily last year. Jeremy Saunders said, 'We have to stop thinking that if staff unionizes it means we are bad employers and that we've committed a mistake.'

Staff members at INCLUDEnyc began organizing in March 2020. The nonprofit provides resources and training to families of students with disabilities, as well as professionals who work with them.

Maggie Downham, family educator, at the organization was discussing work-related issues with her therapist who suggested she and her coworkers start a union. She said: 'I began talking to co-workers, and I realized that it wasn't only me who felt like this, and the informal conversations evolved into organizing.'

After the union was formed contract negotiations stopped. Employees began collective actions, such as using union logos for their backgrounds or emailing board and management members employee testimony. The terms of a contract agreement were finalized in mid-March.

Cheryelle Cruickshank said in a press release that the company was committed to equity. We have reached a verbal agreement which is fair and equitable to all parties.

Nonprofits can find it difficult to get money, as they rely on donations from individuals and grants from institutions, some of which have time limits or other restrictions. Alicia Jay is the co-director at All Due Respect. She said that nonprofits have a different budget than large corporations. It's not a bottomless pit like private companies such Amazon.

Dr. Jones explained that funds are often allocated for a particular program but don't always cover the administrative costs of running it. No one wants to pay for the electric bill or the holiday party.

MacKenzie Scott is a novelist and philanthropist who has given away billions of dollars in grants without restriction. This method allows organizations to choose where and how to spend the money.

Still, union organizing in nonprofits is still at an early stage. There is a mismatch in the way unions organize themselves, especially when they are for-profit. It's a growing pain but we must figure out how to make it better.