Frequently Asked Questions
What is a union?
A union is an organized group of workers who come together to make decisions about the conditions of their work. Once we unionize, we will bargain with management on wages, work hours, benefits, workplace health and safety, and other work-related issues. The product of that negotiation is a legally binding contract that protects employees and their rights. We are the union!
Do non-profits form unions?
Yes! And many non-profits in the environmental field have unions including Sunrise Movement, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and 350.org.
Why do we need a union?
Over the past few years, several challenges have been made apparent at Audubon including: problems related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, which management has acknowledged; no pay transparency; widespread layoffs that demonstrate how little job security we have; harassment and discrimination ignored by HR; general disempowerment among staff; and a lack of accountability for leadership. When we acted collectively, we saw leadership make changes, such as the current listening sessions; however, these ad hoc changes are no substitute for the security of a legally binding union contract.
How will the union help address major issues, like EDI concerns?
Most contracts have a non-discrimination clause and mechanisms to hold management accountable. We can also bargain over equitable salaries, promotions policies, professional development opportunities, layoff procedures, as well as grievance procedures that can result in arbitration if management is found violating the contract.
Will I face negative consequences for supporting an Audubon union?
You have a right to unionize; it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee organizing a union. And, to prevent any staff person from being singled out, unionizing is always done collectively. If anything, there are positive consequences for supporting a union such as the ability to negotiate your working conditions and the solidarity you get from colleagues.
Can’t we get more by just sitting down and talking individually with the boss?
Bargaining collectively is the only way to effectively negotiate “big issues” such as health insurance, a living wage for all, and fair working conditions. In non-profit organizations, raises are often determined by circumstances that have nothing to do with job performance, such as grant income or the power of your department head. With a union, gains are fair and guaranteed by a contract.
How will unionizing affect my relationship with my manager?
Some managers at Audubon are supportive of unionizing because they are aware of the issues in our workplace. In fact, many Center directors sent a letter to the Board in December 2020 expressing the same concerns that staff have voiced. All staff, including managers, benefit from equitable policies that unions promote. Other managers may believe unionizing is antagonistic; having a union will protect you from an aggressive manager. However, once a union is established, it is often less tense—and less personal—to approach a supervisor since there are formal procedures in place, as opposed to raising an issue individually.
What will our funders think if we form a union?
We are unaware of any non-profit that lost funding because of unionizing campaigns. In fact, having non-managerial staff feel secure and protected in the workplace often makes them more productive and focused on the mission, which would make funders happy. At the same time, unionizing can attract progressive funders who see the value of unions in the United States.
Will unionizing make Audubon more bureaucratic, slow, and difficult?
Just the opposite. Standard rules and procedures allow for more efficient decision-making as it relates to contract provisions. And remember, we all vote on the contract. We wouldn’t vote for a contract that makes our lives more difficult.
Who will be covered by an Audubon union?
Union-eligible staff include full-time and part-time employees (i.e. no contract workers or temporary staff) who do not supervise staff. All union-eligible staff are fully covered by the collective bargaining agreement that is negotiated between the employer and the union, and the union is obligated to represent all members. Any employee that is part of the bargaining unit can opt into membership and pay dues. Membership allows us to participate in union elections or meetings, vote on our contract, or participate in other internal union activities. If you live in a so-called “Right to Work” state, you can still join the union. In these states, people can opt out of paying union dues which often makes unions weaker. This is why we encourage everyone to be a member when that time comes. Right now, we are signing union authorization cards to say we want a union. Once we win our union, everyone will have the opportunity to also sign membership cards.
When do we start paying dues, and how much are they?
No one pays a penny in dues until we bargain a first union contract, which is only ratified after a majority vote. When we ratify a union contract that we are satisfied with, dues will kick in. Dues are only 1.3%, or $1.30 per $100 you earn. That is the total cost. The union is a non-profit; all the money goes back into the membership.
What are the next steps?
We are asking eligible workers to sign cards to show their support for the union. Once the majority of us sign cards, we will present them to management. At that point, management can either voluntarily recognize the union—as has happened with many non-profits that have unionized—or require we go to the National Labor Relations Board for a formal election. Once we unionize, we democratically elect a committee of our coworkers, and sit down with management along with a union representative to bargain a contract. Members then vote up or down on the tentatively agreed-upon contract. Afterwards, members elect shop stewards to help uphold the contract, and support members with any challenges.
Will we be forced to strike?
No. The only way we can strike is if we VOTE to strike. More than 99% of CWA contracts are bargained successfully without even the threat of a strike.
What can we expect in the coming weeks from management?
We certainly hope that Audubon lives up to our ideals and does not interfere with our right to form a union. However, it is possible that management will follow the script of many anti-union campaigns and ask for a second chance or more time to make changes. Remember federal law says we have the right to form a union in an atmosphere free of intimidation.