top of page

Here's What to Say.

Tips for Speaking with your Supervisor About Our New Union

As our organizing drive becomes public, it’s likely that supervisors and executive leadership will begin to gauge the extent of support among staff directly. Some of our supervisors who are too senior to be eligible for the union but still support the effort may be curious about it as well.


There’s no reason to assume ulterior motives on anyone’s part, but it’s also important for staff who have supported the union to know their rights and feel confident having what may be uncomfortable conversations with management-level staff. 


Keep in mind, staff do not ​ask for permission​ to unionize. All that is required for us to receive recognition is for a majority of the union bargaining unit to affirm their support for creating a union, whether through a card check or an NLRB-administered vote. It is against the law for management to question staff in any way that actively discourages them from supporting the union or participating in the organizing effort. ​Moreover, ​any attempt to penalize supporters for their involvement or reward non-supportive staff is ​strictly illegal​.


If you in any way feel like the protections you are afforded have been violated, please do not hesitate to notify someone on the organizing committee or reach out to the organizing committee directly at so that we can further assess the situation. More than anything, we are committed to supporting all of our membership as we seek recognition for our union and negotiate our first contract. 

If your supervisor asks you direct questions or makes comments about the union, the simplest thing you can do is redirect the conversation:

  • “I’m proud that the staff have come together to do this, but I’m not really comfortable talking about it in this setting.”

  • “The union represents all staff here at MDRC and I don’t want to speak for everyone. If you have a specific question, you can always email the union at and the union will get back to you with an answer.”

  • “The letter we sent to management really represents our views of why the staff organized and what our goals are. You should look at the materials on the union website:”

If you feel comfortable responding directly to your supervisor’s or another senior staff member’s questions, here are some helpful talking points. 

Supervisor: “Have you heard about the effort to organize a union? Are you involved/do you support the effort? Who do you know that has been involved with this effort?

  • If you feel comfortable acknowledging your own support, you should do so! We want to make sure it’s clear that we have more than majority support among staff covered by our bargaining unit and that staff are enthusiastic about making this change.

  • If you don’t feel comfortable acknowledging your support, you don’t have to. We do ask that you don’t claim to be in outright opposition to the effort​ to avoid the conversation. We understand that you may feel some pressure in this situation, but it’s important not to inadvertently bolster attempts to undermine the union by giving the impression that staff support is not as broadly based as we know it is. Instead, you can refer back to the examples above to redirect the conversation.

  • You are not at all obliged to disclose anyone else’s involvement in the effort to your supervisor or others in management, and unless a staff member has explicitly told you that they are willing to have their name associated with the union, ​please respect your coworkers’ desire to remain anonymous​. You could say: “Some people involved in this effort don’t feel comfortable discussing their role in it, and I’d like to respect their wishes.”

Supervisor: “Have you not enjoyed your time working here / working with me?”

  • Forming a union isn’t necessarily a reaction against a bad workplace—it’s just a way to include more staff involvement in shaping the organization. Union contracts are often used to protect great qualities of a workplace while reforming the challenging ones.

  • When discussing your motivations, be candid! What were the issues that most drew you to signing a card? Depending on your relationship to this person, they may be sympathetic to the issue and leave the conversation with a better understanding of why we are unionizing.

  • Solidarity with your coworkers whose experiences in the workplace have been more challenging is certainly a legitimate reason to endorse this effort. Many other staff have shared their own grievances and concerns. You could say: “While my experience has been great, I know that many of my colleagues have not been treated the same way as me, and want to support them in this effort.”


Supervisor: “How would a union even work at a place like this? What do you envision a union accomplishing here?”

  • A union here would work much like a union at any workplace. Staff in the bargaining unit will elect representatives to join AFSCME in negotiating a contract that will establish the terms of employment for the membership. The membership will then vote on whether or not to accept the contract. Like other unions, no dues are collected until the first contract is signed. ​The basic premise of collective bargaining is that we have considerably more leverage together than as individuals​, which is as true for nonprofit employees as it is for workers in the private or public sector.

  • Remember: The bargaining team’s priorities will be set by the membership​, not AFSCME or any other external organization. A union brings democracy to our workplace by giving us representation and a voice in our workplace.

  • There are plenty of examples of other mission-based organizations unionizing. This includes the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Open Society Foundation, the Century Foundation, and recently, the Urban Institute. 

  • If you’re interested in how to talk about our priorities for change right now, the union website lists some of these out. You can point your supervisor to the website to learn more about this or refer to it yourself to help you answer this question.

bottom of page