In Sweeping Union Push, National Audubon Society Workers Across 11 Regions File for NLRB Election
14 Oct 2021
Nationwide organizing effort comes on heels of union win at Audubon’s national headquarters last month
NATIONWIDE — Today, workers with the National Audubon Society in 11 regions across the U.S. have each filed for a separate National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election, representing the latest and largest effort to secure union representation at the environmental nonprofit. The worker-led push follows an incredible win last month for Audubon employees in the organization’s national headquarters who voted overwhelmingly in favor of forming a union with the Communications Workers of America (CWA). Audubon workers are fighting for a union to combat the organization’s toxic culture, prevent future mass layoffs and ensure all workers have a voice on the job and in the organization’s bigger strategic decision-making.
Audubon workers filed for an NLRB election today in the Upper Midwest (Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri), Southwest (Arizona and New Mexico), Northeast (New York and Connecticut), the Great Lakes (Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin), the Mid Atlantic (Pennsylvania, Maryland), North Carolina, Nebraska, Alaska, Washington, Vermont and California. In total, these 11 regions represent more than 120 Audubon employees that would be represented by CWA.
“Over the last year, we have organized together despite almost complete turnover in leadership, mass layoffs, and broken promises of important structural change. We’re building solidarity amongst staff across all corners of the country because we love protecting birds, and we believe we can make a better, stronger and more successful Audubon with a collective voice,” said Sharon Bruce, Communications Manager for Audubon’s Connecticut and New York regional office. “Audubon employees at our national headquarters have already formed a union, and today we are proud to keep the momentum going.”
Today’s NLRB filings follow Audubon workers’ previous attempts to have management voluntarily recognize a national union. Last May, in a card check led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), a majority of Audubon’s 400-person national staff voted in favor of forming a union, but Audubon management, led by President and interim CEO Dr. Elizabeth Gray, refused voluntary recognition. Workers again tried to negotiate in good faith with management by offering to hold an expedited election through a third-party arbiter so long as Audubon committed to a neutrality agreement, but management declined, forcing workers to file for an election with the NLRB.
“I work at Audubon because I care about its mission to protect birds and their habitats, but it’s impossible for me to do my job successfully when the organization doesn’t care about me as a person, or as a parent. Last year, Audubon only gave me two weeks of parental leave after my daughter was born. On top of that, there’s the constant fear of layoffs and not being able to support my two kids,” said Refugio Mariscal, a GIS Analyst in Audubon’s Chicago office. “As a former teacher and union member, I know that a union would ensure job security and stronger benefits for all of us at Audubon. That is why I’m in this fight.”
Audubon employees began organizing to form a union 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 also point to the fact that all major decisions at Audubon have been made by those at the very top behind closed doors.
Further fueling the drive to organize was Audubon’s toxic culture which created countless barriers in the workplace, primarily for women and employees of color, and was confirmed by an independent audit. Audubon is one of many environmental organizations grappling with its racist history, and workers there viewed a union as their best opportunity to address those concerns.
“As a dedicated employee who has been with Audubon for three years, I know that my voice on the job matters and can help improve this organization and the work we do, but Audubon refuses to listen to its staff and continues to function in a toxic top-down environment,” said Sally Maxwell, an Education Specialist at Audubon in the Southwest region. “For Audubon to flourish, the organization needs to be listening to employees across the country and welcoming more open dialogue. With a union, we can create a better, more just system that will truly help our ideas and the birds take flight.”