Minnesota organizing drive puts the ‘union’ back in ACLU

Minnesota employees are part of a wave of organizing activity across the U.S. that is putting the “union” back in the American Civil Liberties Union.

After a speedy organizing drive that took just two months, eligible staff at the ACLU of Minnesota won voluntary recognition from the 70-year-old civil rights organization July 2, five days after the union announced it had support from a “supermajority” of 11 eligible employees.

The same week, employees at two other state affiliates of the ACLU, Arizona and Illinois, announced union drives of their own. In all, employees of 12 state ACLUs have gone public with their unions.

“We’re the ACLU; we’re built for this,” staff attorney Isabella Nascimento said with a laugh. “We have community organizers who do this work on a day-to-day basis. So it was very easy to have conversations with our colleagues about organizing a union.”

Locally, ACLU-MN Staff United is affiliated with the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild, TNG-CWA Local 37002. Negotiations with the ACLU of Minnesota on a first contract have yet to begin.

In a statement, union members said they hope collective bargaining will “create organizational stability and transparency; promote pay equity; develop stronger support systems for staff; increase equity and inclusion within the organization and its leadership; and hold management accountable for implementing the organization’s external principles – including its commitment to organized labor – within the walls of their workplace.”

They also expressed solidarity with “the growing movement of non-profit workers” organizing for more stable, inclusive and equitable workplaces.

Since 2019, workers at no less than 17 nonprofit and advocacy organizations in the Twin Cities have organized new unions – a trend that picked up steam in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide reckoning on racial justice following the murder of George Floyd.

“Throughout these several months of uncertainty, the mission of the staff at the ACLU of Minnesota has remained unchanged: to hold government accountable when it harms people and bulldozes their civil rights and liberties,” ACLU-MN Staff United said. “The staff expects that the face the organization projects to the public will match its internal ethos. Our decision to unionize represents an internal accountability mechanism and the staff’s unwavering commitment toward the organization’s success.”

The bargaining unit is likely to grow as the ACLU of Minnesota fills multiple open positions, Nascimento said. She said the organization has roughly tripled in size in recent years, resulting in some “growing pains that it was becoming increasingly difficult to fix internally without speaking with a collective voice.”

The successful organizing drive also puts employees in a better position to influence the process of hiring a new executive director. The ACLU of Minnesota’s previous executive director resigned, as planned, June 30.

“We think it’s really important staff has a voice in choosing the successor,” Nascimento said. “We know what makes for a successful organization for us and for the personalities we have in the office.”

In the meantime, leadership’s decision to recognize and respect its employees’ choice to form a union is having a positive effect on workplace morale. Nascimento said union members were pleased to see the organization live up to its stated position that collective bargaining is fundamental to workers’ ability to exercise their rights of speech, assembly and petition.

“It went very quickly, very seamlessly and non-contentiously,” she said. “It’s very collegial, and the atmosphere at the office is really energetic. It’s a huge show from leadership that they really are pro-union.”

Follow ACLU-MN Staff United on Twitter @aclumn_united.

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