Press Release- National Audubon Society Workers File for NLRB Election

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, July 1, 2021

MEDIA CONTACT: Zoe PiSierra,, 603.339.0042

National Audubon Society Workers File for NLRB Election After Management Denies Expedited Process & Neutrality Agreement

Nonprofit fails to remedy toxic culture as management continues anti-union stance;

Workers demand Audubon follow lead of environmental nonprofits organizing, including Sunrise Movement, and Greenpeace;

Washington, D.C. -- Today, workers with Audubon for All Union, the union effort at the National Audubon Society, announced they have filed for a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election. The news comes after Audubon management, led by incoming CEO Dr. Elizabeth Gray, denied workers’ request for an expedited election process through the American Arbitration Association and refused to sign a legal neutrality agreement, the latest and most concrete pushback by Audubon executives against the workers’ union and a continuation of the nonprofit’s anti-union stance. Earlier this year, Audubon hired well-known union-busting law firm Littler Mendelson in response to workers’ organizing efforts.

“Dr. Gray said that Audubon was willing to work with the union to hold an election as soon as possible but has rebuffed our requests,” said Shyamlee Patel, a Finance Associate at Audubon. “Delaying an election and slowing down our organizing process will not keep us from winning a union. Refusing an expedited election only serves to perpetuate Audubon’s toxic culture where upper management ignores workers’ voices. It’s the exact reason we are organizing.”

Audubon workers are organizing to form a union with Communications Workers of America (CWA) after facing two rounds of layoffs last year, including one on Earth Day, and having the cost of their health care increased amid the pandemic. Workers have also pointed to the nonprofits’ toxic culture, top-down decision-making structure, lack of transparency and unfair treatment of women and employees of color as reasons for organizing.

The workers have received union support from over 10,000 fellow birders, nonprofit workers, climate activists and Audubon members, and highlighted this widespread support in a petition delivered to Dr. Gray earlier this month, demanding voluntary recognition of their union. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) have also encouraged Audubon to recognize the union through the card check process, and in a card count led by Sen. Markey last month, the majority of employees voted in favor of forming a union. Audubon management failed to recognize this vote.

“I’ve seen several of my coworkers let go with zero warning and watched my health premiums go up—all during a pandemic,” said Safiya Cathey, a Manager in Audubon’s Grant Accounting department. “I want to be focused on combating climate change and saving birds’ habitats, not whether I’ll be able to afford a doctor’s visit. In order to fight for the birds, we need to fight for ourselves, which is why this union is so important.”

Dr. Gray took the reins of Audubon earlier this year from former CEO David Yarnold, who resigned following allegations of fostering a toxic work environment. Those allegations were confirmed in an audit by law firm Morgan Lewis, which found that Audubon “has a culture of retaliation, fear, and antagonism toward women and people of color.” The audit also recommended greater staff participation in the decision-making process and more sincere efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Audubon’s mission is to support birds and their ecosystems, but the organization seems not to recognize that its employees are at the front of that fight,” said Alisa Opar, Features Editor at Audubon Magazine. “We work at Audubon not only because we’re passionate about conservation and dedicated to putting our expertise to work for the birds. We can’t do that to the best of our ability when our decision to unionize is not being respected and we aren’t given a voice on the job. It’s time management realizes that.”

Audubon management refuses voluntary recognition and is an outlier in the environmental organization field in that regard, as organizations such as Sunrise Movement, Sierra Club, and Greenpeace,have all voluntarily recognized their workers’ unions. Additionally, in recent weeks, the CEO of the Center for Biological Diversity also agreed to a card check, highlighting the growing trend of union organizing among nonprofits.

“Audubon needs to look at these other environmental groups organizing and ask why we aren’t standing beside them in this fight. Why is management letting us fall behind?” said Tykee James, Audubon’s Government Affairs Coordinator, who is also co-founder of #BlackBirdersWeek on Twitter and host of the On Word for Wildlife podcast. “If management really wants to usher in a new era of change, they need to support their workers and ensure a fair election process.”

About Audubon for All:

Audubon for All Union is the staff union of the National Audubon Society working together to build a better organization for people and birds, in partnership with the Communications Workers of America.

About Communications Workers of America:

The Communications Workers of America represents working people in telecommunications, customer service, media, airlines, health care, public service and education, and manufacturing.