Telling Facts from Fiction.
Forming a union gives us a say in our working conditions. It fundamentally redistributes power so that it is distributed among employees rather than concentrated in the hands of a few senior leaders.
Giving up power is hard and uncomfortable. So it’s not surprising that workers often encounter pushback when they are forming a union, even in mission-driven organizations and those that offer competitive wages. Senior management teams often try to dissuade employees from unionizing by promising changes. It’s not uncommon for companies to hire firms specializing in “union avoidance” and mount campaigns against unionization.
We designed this guide to help you tell fact from fiction about unionizing. It covers some of the common strategies that management teams use to dissuade workers from exercising their right to collective bargaining. Knowing the truth can help you feel confident about your decision to stand alongside your colleagues to make MDRC a more just, transparent, and equitable place for all of us.
"We are already in the process of making changes -- just give us more time!"
MDRC’s management teams may remind you of the ways they have committed to making changes, such as various workgroups, policy reviews, and initiatives with consultants. They may ask you to give them another chance to solve your problems without forming a union. Or they may form a workgroup to address an issue, shuffle leadership slightly to show their concern, make some of the changes we are asking for, or merely show more interest in our concerns.
A union lets us make decisions about our work and workplace as equals. MDRC leadership has acknowledged staff concerns and changes are needed in our workplace. If MDRC leaders want to make these changes, why not secure them in writing in a legally binding contract that we have the right to bargain for, vote on, and enforce? Without a contract, these promises and improvements can be changed at any time, without our input.
"You should just use the designed systems for making change."
So many of us have tried to make change happen at MDRC by joining work groups, serving on councils, making reports to human resources, and speaking up about the problems we experience in the workplace. Staffed by senior staff who are cautious about any major change and lacking a meaningful budget or timeline, such groups have rarely been able to suggest changes that stick. Too many unsuccessful committees at MDRC have failed due to issues we know to be true of MDRC, including power hoarding, a lack of overarching strategy for change, and a default to defend the status quo. As a result, these efforts have not led to concrete changes in the areas that affect us the most, like pay and promotion.
A union would allow us to break this cycle. By having a contract that we negotiate, we would be able to commit our workplace to making changes that have already been reviewed and recommended by countless committees. Further, decisions about our workplace that come from a contract apply to all workers at MDRC, and aren’t subject to the discretion of department leaders.
"MDRC will become too expensive if we form a union and we’ll lose out on competitive bids."
Many nonprofits and research organizations have unions and have not gone out of business! These include national nonprofits like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, as well as research and policy institutes like the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Center for American Progress, and the Economic Policy Institute. This spring, two major players in the social policy research field--Urban Institute and Brookings--formed unions. MDRC may increasingly look like an outlier if we choose not to shift the balance of power in our workplace. Moreover, it’s illegal for management to close or threaten to close because employees choose to join together for a voice at work.
A union would create clear and transparent thresholds for all staff members regardless of project, department, or location. By giving us a chance to look at our finances alongside leadership, we may be able to find inventive solutions to the same challenges they are struggling with. More people in the room, more perspective, more potential solutions!
"The union is a third party that will make it harder for us to have direct conversations."
Our union isn’t a third party--it’s us! Our union is made up of MDRC employees across different levels and departments. We all get a say in which of our fellow MDRC staff represent us in negotiating our contract. We also determine who helps enforce our contract as shop stewards and elect our executive board who manages our union.
Having a union gives us more options for how and when we talk with management; it doesn’t take any options away from us. As a union member, you can speak to your supervisor at any time. And if you’d prefer to decline to have a conversation until you have a union representative present, you have that option too.
"It would be undemocratic for us to voluntarily recognize the union because an election is the only way to ensure that the majority of staff at MDRC want a union."
An election isn’t the only way to prove majority support. A majority of MDRC staff have already demonstrated that they want to form a union by signing union membership cards. MDRC management can acknowledge the majority support that already exists by voluntarily recognizing our union. Voluntary recognition is quick and allows us to move forward with bargaining our contract right away.
An election would simply force people who have already signed a card to submit a ballot saying that they support our union. This is a tactic used by many employers (like Amazon) to stall, slow down, or defeat unionization. Employers attempting to stop staff from coming together to exercise their right to collective bargaining can use the election to run an anti-union campaign while they still hold all the power. For example, they might force all employees to attend anti-union meetings.
The organizing committee has asked MDRC management to voluntarily recognize our union or commit to remaining neutral through the election process.
"Starting a union means that you have to start negotiating your contract from a blank slate. Current wages, benefits, or policies will disappear or will need to be won back."
As soon as we announced this union to MDRC management, all changes to our working conditions were legally required to freeze. Our contract negotiations start from the conditions as they were on the day we announced this effort. That means that our current wages, benefits, and workplace policies are the floor of our contract. Moreover, MDRC’s management is legally required to bargain in good faith, meaning that they have to make a sincere effort to engage with concerns.
Our bargaining team will help negotiate a contract with the help of union members. Then, all members will decide whether to approve the contract through a vote. Your strength, through participation and solidarity, determines the quality of the contract.
"Unions are too political. MDRC can’t have a union because we are a nonpartisan organization. Having a union will jeopardize our reputation with federal, state, and local governments."
Like all workplaces and as protected by the federal government, MDRC employees have the right and ability to organize a union. Forming a union isn’t a political or partisan act. It’s a vehicle for making change within our workplace through collective bargaining. Collective bargaining takes place between employees and employers. It doesn’t involve government officials or political parties. By forming a union (rather than asking for change through other processes), we have access to a greater range of legal protections. This makes us safer and better protected from retaliation as we work to make MDRC a better place to work. There’s nothing partisan about wanting a better workplace.
"You must hate management and MDRC if you want to form a union."
Forming a union is not about liking or not liking management or MDRC. It’s a way to help formally include staff in the decision-making of the organization. When people who do the work have a say in how the work gets done, it usually gets done better. Some people have had a great experience at MDRC and others have struggled. Forming a union is a vote of confidence in you and your coworkers to help make MDRC a great experience and solidarity for everyone.