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MDRC Management Withholds Raises for Union Members in Fight for Fair Wages


Social Policy Workers United (SPWU)—the employee union at MDRC—organized in 2021 with the goals of creating a fair and just workplace where everyone is treated with dignity, compensated fairly, and participates in transparent decision making. 

After nearly two years of first contract negotiations, MDRC Management has taken an approach to compensation negotiations that is harmful to union members. They are:

  • Withholding end-of-year raises and fair market pay from union members

  • Denying retroactive pay to staff they acknowledge are working below a fair market rate

  • Refusing to offer fair cost-of-living adjustments during the term of the contract 

  • Rejecting the Union’s proposal to set a livable wage floor 

Please share our story widely and show support for organized workers in the social policy space.


Who is Social Policy Workers United?

The logo of Social Policy Workers United, which is a gray bar chart topped by an orange line chart, within a gray and orange circle.

Social Policy Workers United is the staff union at MDRC, a social policy research organization focused on programs and policies affecting people with low incomes. We represent researchers, administrative assistants, facilities workers, research support staff, library staff, and more. We began organizing in 2020 and were recognized by Management in 2021. In June 2022, we began negotiating our first contract to pursue a fair and just workplace where everyone is treated with dignity, compensated fairly, and can easily access transparent information around policies, practices, and salaries. 

For nearly two years, we have negotiated with management to secure worker rights including: just cause, a fully accessible workplace, and equitable disciplinary practices. Among the most impactful of the changes we’re still fighting for is fair compensation.

MDRC Withholds Raises; Fights Fair Wages

We're writing today because Management is taking two major blows at fair compensation for unionized employees. 

First, Management is refusing to offer end-of-year salary raises to union members (despite offering raises to non-union members); meaning any union-eligible staff who did not receive a promotion (more than 90% of us) will be stuck with 2023 salaries until our contract is implemented. Management wants to make SPWU staff work for months with sub-market salaries. This represents a clear break in practice at MDRC, where end-of-year raises are the norm and have been proposed to the Union during each year of contract bargaining. Management is choosing to withhold raises during a year where the cost of living continues to surge in the cities where most MDRC employees and their families live. Withholding wages as we get closer to ratifying a fair contract is Management’s pressure tactic, designed to get us to accept less than we deserve. Our members are feeling the economic pressure of this approach, and we must push back. 

Second, despite one of MDRC’s core beliefs being that our work should “improve the lives of families with low incomes, and address stubborn inequities in our society,” the compensation package Management proposed does not live up to their stated mission. Their compensation proposal offers lower initial salaries, minimal salary increases for the duration of the contract that are guaranteed to not keep up with inflation or rising costs of living, no increase to the salary floor, and no recognition to long-time employees for their contributions and loyalty, despite MDRC underpaying many of them for decades. 

Even in the fastest contract timeline, it would be summer before bargaining unit staff would see wage adjustments, and under Management’s current proposal, those adjustments would not be retroactive. The intentionally hostile treatment of bargaining unit members is an attempt to weaken the collective power of workers. 

Moving Forward and our Call to Action for Supporters

MDRC president, Virginia Knox, has dismissed these grievances in emails to all MDRC staff, despite not attending negotiations herself. SPWU intends to fight back on behalf of all MDRC workers, and urges all of our supporters (colleagues, project funders, and partner organizations) to stay informed and speak out in support of our efforts. 

As a union, we have the collective power to fight for fair wages for our colleagues. Our Bargaining Team has developed a compensation proposal that will improve the lives of all unionized workers at MDRC. The counter proposal we're putting forward today sets a competitive salary floor, an annual cost-of-living-adjustment, recognizes long-time employees with longevity pay, and provides across the board raises for all bargaining unit employees. 

To support SPWU's workers, please share this letter and show MDRC management that you support fair compensation for all employees.

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