ILSR staff seek union to ‘internally reflect what we are externally organizing for’

[Update 7/21/21: Management has agreed to recognize the union, according to the ILSR Staff Union.]

Staff members at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance announced last week that they have formed a union, but leaders of the Minneapolis-based nonprofit have yet to act on workers’ request for voluntary recognition of their new bargaining unit.

Members of the ILSR Staff Union, an affiliate of Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Local 12, sent a letter to the ILSR’s co-directors last Tuesday formally requesting voluntary recognition, which bypasses the lengthy union-election process governed by the National Labor Relations Board and, instead, allows workers to collect signed cards requesting union representation.

While the co-directors have acknowledged receiving the request, their only response as of last Friday was to say they are doing “their due diligence,” according to Jess Del Fiacco, a union activist who works as ILSR’s communications manager.

“We’re pretty disappointed,” Del Fiacco said. “Our organization is publicly very supportive of organized labor. I personally expected them to voluntarily recognize our union. But we’re still hopeful that we’ll get there.”

Workers have set up an online form for supporters to sign a letter calling on the co-directors, John Farrell and Stacy Mitchell, to move forward with voluntary recognition. Sign it here.

With offices in Washington, D.C., and Portland, Maine, as well as Minneapolis, the ILSR’s mission is to strengthen local economies and communities by fighting corporate control, making the organization a natural ally of organized labor.

The bargaining unit at ILSR would include 14 workers. They began discussing the idea of forming a union last summer, Del Fiacco said, with the organizing drive entering full swing by fall.

Since then, an overwhelming majority of eligible staff members have signed onto the union drive, according to organizers.

ILSR union members said they believe collective bargaining will give them more power to promote equity and transparency at the organization – and to advocate for their own well-being.

Del Fiacco said ILSR staff members face issues common in nonprofit workplaces, like pay disparities, unwritten rules and responsibilities stretching beyond employees’ job descriptions.

But she added: “We don’t see this as any kind of response to a terrible workplace or anything like that. I have nothing but respect for the leadership of the organization and the work we do. We’re excited to help build an organization that’s even stronger together.”

Union members are hopeful the ILSR co-directors – sooner or later – will see things the same way.

“We really want our workplace to reflect the values our organization has,” Del Fiacco said. “ILSR works for democratic institutions, and we think there’s no reason we shouldn’t internally reflect what we are externally organizing for.”

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