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Frequently Asked Questions.

Here are some of the most common questions we've heard so far.

What is a Union?

In the most basic sense, a union is you and your coworkers coming together to have a say in your workplace. By forming a union you will have a chance to create more accountability and transparency in the workplace through democracy and participation. By having a union, you equalize the power dynamics at work and have the tools, training and resources to negotiate with your pay, benefits and working conditions through collective bargaining. Unions are inherently democratic entities. All MDRC workers who are eligible for the union have an opportunity to elect peers to lead the union.

What Does It Take to Form A Union?

All it takes to form a union is the support of a majority of eligible staff within a workplace. Everybody in a workplace is eligible to be in a union unless their position gives them the power to hire, fire, discipline or assign duties to another employee or access to certain confidential information. (For more information about which positions are included in our union, see the question below about eligibility.) The process begins with staff sharing information, discussing areas of collective interest, and building support from across coworkers for the union. Once a majority of staff have indicated support for the union by signing a membership card, the union is formed and can begin the process of negotiating with the employer on behalf of all eligible staff.

Will I Face Retaliation if I Join the Union?

Under the National Labor Relations Act, you have a legal right to organize. It’s illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for joining a union or participating in union activities.  Of course, some employers break these laws. Through AFSCME, our parent union, SPWU members have access to expert staff and attorneys who will defend the rights of any worker who was punished for participating in union activities. If you are concerned about your retaliation or want to know more about your rights, reach out to your organizing committee member or send us an email at


We want to encourage members who want to be involved in leadership positions of our Union to do so without fear. We will have lots of opportunities to be involved whether being elected to be on the Bargaining Team, the Executive Board or becoming a Shop Steward. We’ll work as a team to help people feel comfortable to step into those rules and make sure they know their rights, and what to do if you feel like they’ve been violated. The best way to ensure retaliation doesn’t happen is for us to stand strong together as a union.

What is Collective Bargaining and How Does it Work?

Collective bargaining is the process by which employees in unions and their employers come together to negotiate the terms and conditions in work, including pay, benefits and working conditions. The terms agreed to through bargaining are solidified in a collective bargaining agreement or what’s commonly called a union contract. This agreement is a legally enforceable contract between the union and employer. Workers’ current pay and benefits form the starting point for the contract. Members of the union elect a bargaining team to represent them in the bargaining process and get to preview and vote to approve the contract once it is negotiated. ​​


Negotiations can include anything that affects the conditions of your employment. Management is legally obligated to bargain on certain topics such as wages, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. Many unions also bargain on other important topics such as racial equity, professional development, and workplace democracy. 


Members identify which issues are most important to them, and areas that need improvement are often prioritized in bargaining. The organizing committee has been learning about worker’s concerns and they will field a bargaining survey to systematically capture and prioritize the concerns of all members. After Management and The Bargaining Committee come to a Tentative Agreement (the TA) members will have a chance to vote to accept or reject it. If approved by the members, it will go into effect, if rejected the Bargaining Team will work with members to address their concerns to take back to managment. 


When the organizing committee chose a union to work with, they sought one that would provide MDRC workers with many tools and resources to help us build a strong union. The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is one of the largest unions in the country with 1.6 million members. They have traditionally organized public sector and adjacent workers. We are excited to work with AFSCME to help improve the social policy sector.

Joining AFSCME gave us the chance to form our own local: Social Policy Workers United (SPWU). Locals are like nonprofit organizations that govern individual union shops or chapters. As our own local, we get to write the bylaws that govern our local, set the structure for our local, choose our executive board members, and determine our dues. Our union will truly be our organization.

Who at MDRC can be included in our union?

A bargaining unit is a group of employees with a shared set of interests who are represented under a union for the purposes of collective bargaining. In other words, they are the workers covered by the collective bargaining agreement (or union contract) under which workers come together to define their pay, benefits, and working conditions. 


The SPWU bargaining unit reaches across different levels and departments to empower workers across the organization. Generally, staff who are not a part of MDRC’s management structure are eligible for our union. This includes staff under the Associate III level in PRED and most workers in Core who are not unit or department heads. You can see the full list of job titles included in the bargaining unit here.


Some workers are excluded from the union because their duties include work that is considered managerial in nature or brings them into contact with confidential information relating to labor relations. These workers may be excluded from the union even though others with their title are included in the bargaining unit. The SPWU organizing committee has communicated with these staff about their status. If you have any questions please reach out to a member of the SPWU organizing committee. 


In addition, some departments and roles are not included in the unit. This includes all Executive Officers, Department/Unit Heads and Deputies, Fellows, Interns, and employees in the Office of the President, Human Resources, Finance, and Legal departments.

What happens when I sign a card?

Signing a membership card makes you a member of SPWU. Members get to shape the priorities for bargaining, vote on our contract, choose the executive board and union shop stewards, and more! Becoming a member gives you greater say in shaping your working conditions. 


Signing a membership card also shows your desire to organize your union. It is what is used to prove to the National Labor Review Board that employees are interested in forming a union for their mutual aid and protection.

Will I have to strike?

No one will ever force you to strike, and the vast majority contracts are resolved without a strike. The decision to strike would be made democratically by you and your workers.  If most workers do not want to strike, there won’t be a strike. It’s that simple.

What about dues?

No one will pay any dues until we have negotiated a contract that has been approved by members and ratified. It typically takes about a year to negotiate a first contract. 

Forming our own local allows us to set our own policies for dues. We’ll get to vote on how much the dues are and whether they vary based on income. Any increases in dues would be voted on and approved by members. 


Dues help us run and manage our union. You can think of the local as being like a nonprofit organization that needs resources to function, just like MDRC. Social Policy Workers United members get to vote on how their dues are used and review financial statements. Your union dues also help pay for membership to AFSCME, which supports Social Policy Workers United by providing legal support, training and guidance, and assistance if MDRC management violates our union contract.

Will we be the only organization like MDRC to have a union?

Many nonprofits, policy think tanks, and research organizations have unions! These include the Center for American Progress (CAP), Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Brennan Center, and the list is growing! The Urban Institute received voluntary recognition of their union in May 2021 and employees at Brookings asked for recognition this spring.

How can I help?

You can help by signing a membership card, staying informed, and  communicating with your squad leaders or organizing committee. If you would like to sign a membership card, reach out to anybody on the organizing committee and they can explain the process to you. You can also become a squad leader, join the bargaining committee, or run for the SPWU board. We want to strive for inclusive and diverse representation on our board and committees because it makes our Union stronger. No one should be afraid to take on a leadership role, if you have questions or concerns let one of the organizing committee people know. 

If you are a member of the union, please be sure to visit our website. and join the members only area for updates.

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