Organizing among Twin Cities nonprofit workers continues to bear fruit

Hastened by the pandemic, economic uncertainty and the uprising for racial justice last summer, unionization efforts have succeeded at more than a dozen Twin Cities nonprofits in the last year.

In the last two months, employees at four local nonprofit organizations – Beacon Housing Collaborative, FairVote Minnesota, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and MinnPost – won recognition of their unions after organizing campaigns sponsored by the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild-CWA.

And workers at another local nonprofit, Headway Emotional Health Services, went public with a union campaign backed by Local 12 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU).

For many nonprofit employees, the appeal of forming a union isn’t just greater say over their terms and conditions of employment. Workers also want a meaningful voice in organizations’ decisions – and more power to hold them accountable to their own goals and values, like equity and inclusion.

In a press release announcing their union, Beacon workers said winning a collective voice is “the best and only path toward shifting the balance of power” at the organization and “creating opportunities for all Beacon staff to participate in organizational strategy and decision making.”

The press release also noted that turnover at the nonprofit has “particularly affected staff who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color in recent years, as well as staff in frontline service positions.” That runs counter to the organization’s principles, workers added.

Winning recognition – one way or another

Unlike employers in the private sector, where profit is the chief motivating force, nonprofit employers often hold themselves to a mission statement or set of stated values.

That means workers organizing unions in the nonprofit sector are, in theory, less likely to meet the well-documented resistance workers at places like Amazon have encountered. For many nonprofit employers, tactics in the anti-union playbook – threats, firings, captive-audience meetings and disinformation campaigns – would violate their own principles.

Appealing to their employers’ values has helped several local nonprofit unions win voluntary recognition, in which management agrees to bypass the lengthy election process governed by the National Labor Relations Board and allow workers to collect signed authorization cards instead.

That’s how FairVote Minnesota, an organization devoted to expanding ranked-choice voting, agreed to recognize its field organizers and regional organizing directors’ union. “As a model for democracy organizations across the country, FairVote MN must consider us, the staff, in its mission to leave a historical impact in our state and beyond,” workers said in their appeal to management.

MinnPost journalists and business and support staff won voluntary recognition, too. On Twitter, union members listed three goals in organizing a union: more competitive wages and benefits, greater say in the organization’s decisions and “making MinnPost a place that better reflects the community it serves.”

Beacon workers, meanwhile, reached a neutrality agreement with management that sped up the organizing process.

“The Beacon Union intends to bring transparent accountability to Beacon’s publicly stated value of race equity, especially by implementing collective decision making and advocating for equitable salary and benefit structures,” union members said.

In what workers called a disappointing waste of time and resources, the Minnesota Council of Non-profits denied workers’ request for voluntary recognition, hired an anti-union attorney and forced a NLRB election. Still, the union prevailed.

“We envision a workplace that sees staff as whole people with ideas, time, experiences and the multitudes we contain,” union members said in a statement after the vote. “We look forward to finally starting negotiations and bringing our vision of a truly equitable and inclusive workplace to fruition.”

Seeking more say at Headway

Workers at Headway announced their union campaign with OPEIU Local 12 in April. The union includes therapists, case managers and administrative staff at the nonprofit, which provides emotional health services in the metro area.

Although the campaign is public, union supporters have not yet approached Headway management about recognition, according to organizers, who say roughly 160 workers would be eligible for the bargaining unit. The union is hoping to drive public support for their campaign on social media. Organizers are asking allies to follow and amplify @HeadwayUnited on Facebook and Twitter.

“For years, we have been working hard to provide the best care to those seeking emotional wellness – often without meaningful recognition or material support from management,” the union tweeted. “We need to take care of us, too!

“A union at Headway means we get a say in ensuring our workplace reflects our worth and our values.”

A trend in the sector 

The nonprofit community has seen a burst of union activity across the U.S. in recent years. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track union density in the nonprofit sector as part of its annual report on union membership, several Minnesota unions have successfully organized workers from education, social-service, arts, advocacy and other organizations.

Since last summer, OPEIU Local 12 has organized workers at four local nonprofits: Jewish Community Action, Minnesota Voice, Minnesota Youth Collective and the Minnesota Freedom Fund. Members of Augsburg University’s staff voted in January to join Local 12, and the union also recently organized a new classification of workers at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts into an existing bargaining unit.

Workers at OutFront Minnesota and Hope Community have organized unions with the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild since 2019.

AFSCME Council 5 supported successful organizing drives at Minneapolis Crisis Nursery and the Walker Art Center in the last year.

And workers at Minnesota Public Radio’s classical and alternative stations voted to join SAG-AFTRA in December.

– Updated May 25, 2021.

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