Unions and Nonprofits

Several unions have stepped up organizing nonprofit employees. These unions are usually targeting workers at progressive research and advocacy organizations. It makes sense, because such workers are often union-sympathetic already. It’s often also assumed that such organizations will be more labor-friendly than for-profit enterprises. Sometimes that’s true and sometimes it’s not.

Yesterday I hit the streets with members of OPEIU Local 2 who represent staff at the environmental organization Defenders of Wildlife, protesting in front of the nonprofit’s headquarters. Why were they there? They were in town for National Labor Relations Board proceedings. When the workers began organizing, management responded by unlawfully firing one of the union activists, Erica Prather (pictured). At the last moment, the two sides reached a settlement on this and other Unfair Labor Practice charges, but the two sides still seem to be a long way from a first contract.

This is not unique to progressive nonprofits. The Catholic Labor Network has repeatedly witnessed the same thing in Church-run organizations. Despite a clear and consistent Church teaching on the right of workers to organize in unions, administrators at Catholic schools, hospitals and other institutions seldom welcome union organizing among their staff – and often fight to prevent them from doing so.

Ordered to different ends, for-profit and non-profit organizations are very different in important ways. However, managers at both types of institutions exercise power in the workplace, and that power is constrained when workers come together in a union to negotiate the terms of their employment. Not surprisingly, managers are seldom enthusiastic about ceding some of their power to employees, regardless of the type of organization they are leading.

But workers deserve a voice on the job, whether they work for a nonprofit or for-profit institution. Please keep the Defenders of Wildlife staff in your prayers as they fight for a first contract, as well as those workers at Catholic institutions who aspire to a voice in the workplace.