Posts tagged ‘labor union’

March 16, 2021

It’s a Terrible Sign When More Nonprofit Employees Join Labor Unions

Are labor unions really necessary today? A growing number of nonprofit employees think they are. That should serve as a wake-alarm for the nonprofit sector. It’s a terrible sign that should concern everyone involved in the charity sector.

A new report in the Star Tribune reveals that the staff at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, the largest statewide nonprofit association in the country, has scheduled a vote to unionize in April. Staff at Minnesota’s Walker Art Center and Jewish Community Action have already unionized.

Dan Sassenberg, CFRE, Director of Advancement Services at Luther Seminary, shared the Star Tribune article on LinkedIn.  He identified a number of issues facing nonprofit employees, particularly fundraisers, that a union might be able to help address:

The expectation that folks work 45-60 hours every week (I have been given this expectation); non-transparent, inadequate benefits and pay; organizations refusing to cut ties with racist and sexist donors; expecting responses to emails on the weekend; sometimes extensive after-hours work engagements with no downtime during the week to compensate; folks fearing that they can’t be seen to be away from their desk unless they have a donor visit on the calendar; no professional development, etc.”

Amber Davis, a Nonprofit Services Assistant at MCN, told the Star Tribune that the unionization effort has been a “long time coming” and enjoys majority support. She says that reasons the staff seeks to unionize “include limited transparency on policy changes, dismissive behavior toward workers, and high turnover.”

While Davis and Sassenberg have identified some legitimate concerns that nonprofit employees have, it is nevertheless unfortunate that this is leading to growing interest in unionization when there is a better solution: more effective management.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should let you know that I have mixed feelings about labor unions. Historically, they have often been corrupt, racist, controlling, violent, and over-reaching. On the other hand, they have struggled successfully for a shorter workweek, better pay, and safer working conditions, among other important things.

As the labor movement has scored major successes, as government legislation has changed workplace conditions, and as companies have grown more responsive to their employees, people have been less interested in being part of a labor union. According to 2020 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 6.3 percent of private-sector workers are members of a union, down from 16.8 percent in 1983. That would seem to indicate that the vast majority of Americans do NOT think unions are necessary to worker wellbeing.

While the overall private-sector unionization trend has been downward, the fact that the nonprofit sector is witnessing greater interest in unionizing is troubling because it indicates that something is wrong with employer-employee relationships as Davis and Sassenberg have observed.

I believe, based on personal experience, that labor unions, while they can be useful, should NOT be necessary. If employers build strong, caring relationships with employees and are responsive to their needs, employees will not see a need to unionize. Employers should seek to build healthy organizations by ensuring employee satisfaction. Let me tell you my story.

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