When I think of unions and organized labor, I think of groups like the Teamsters, UAW, and AFL-CIO which deal with workers in the Private sector, or Public sector unions like AFSCME and various teacher, police and firefighter unions. The unions do things like negotiate wages and benefits for their members, and then receive dues paid from workers’ salaries. According to an article in Wikipedia, “Union workers average 10-30% higher pay than non-union in America.” Unions are also responsible for giving us the 40 hour work week, overtime pay, and other things workers now take for granted.
When negotiations don’t go well, union members may go on strike, like the teachers in a local school district recently did. As I write this, the state of Wisconsin is voting whether to recall Governor Scott Walker because he ended collective bargaining for most public employees.
Recently, while I was reading an ad for a position with a local nonprofit in the CNRG Daily Digest, I noticed that it was a position represented by a labor organization. I was surprised to find that in an ad for a job in the Nonprofit sector.
I have never really associated unions with the Nonprofit sector. I guess there are some union members in larger health organizations, like nurses that are organized, but for smaller nonprofits and charities, I really haven’t seen much organized labor involvement. The organizations I have worked for or have served as a Board member have had no union employees.
After reading the ad, I placed a poll on Linked In to ask whether nonprofits should have unions (http://linkd.in/LRLDXp), and I was surprised that, as I write this, the majority of respondents want union representation. I do have issues with the results, because the demographic information does not match the numbers of total votes, so I don’t how accurate they are.
When I first came to Oregon over 25 years ago, I took a job in a nonprofit childcare that was mainly financed by fee for service, using a sliding scale. Low income parents paid what they could, and parents who were better off paid more. The center did get some funding from the local university, since many of the parents were students, but no one, including the Director, was well paid and benefits were the best the organization could afford. One employee tried to bring in a union to demand better wages, but she was voted down by the other employees who had no wish to organize, and did not want to risk creating a situation where parents could not afford to place their children in the center.
Nonprofits try to do the best they can for their employees, but they also can try to get the most work out of them for their pay, due to the limited amount money they have to work with. That often leads to burn out and job hopping, with only those most loyal to the mission of the organization staying around.
What would happen if more nonprofits were unionized? Would overhead increase and programs serve fewer people? Would donors feel that their donations were not going to the programs they are supporting? I just don’t know.
If you work for a nonprofit that is represented by a labor organization, I would appreciate hearing from you. If you are not a member, I would like your opinion on this subject as well. Please feel free to use the link above and vote on the poll, and leave a comment.