(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: I’ve seen the union difference

As a community we can show solidarity…

  • By Miguel Rohrbacher
  • Monday, January 9, 2023 10:45pm
  • Opinion

The non-management staff of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council recently voted by supermajority to form a union. The management of SEACC decided to not recognize the new union, which now means that staff will have to vote again in an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. I am disappointed that the management and board of SEACC declined to voluntarily recognize a democratic choice by their staff to bargain collectively as a unit — especially since SEACC prides itself on its history of protecting community voice, the rule of law and democratic processes in land and resource management decisions.

Let me be clear, if the management recognized the union voluntarily there would be no need for an NLRB process. According to the member organizers, SEACC not only denied voluntary recognition but also did not provide a good faith effort for more time to consider their workers proposal. Avoiding communication, and stalling are classic tactics employed by management to run out the clock and take the wind out of the sails of new organizing campaigns.

Further, the Juneau Empire recently reported that SEACC has hired Littler Mendelson, a titanic law firm notorious for its prolific union busting. In fact, Littler Mendelson says on its own website “we excel in union avoidance and elections.” Last I heard SEACC United has four members, by contrast Littler Mendelson has over 900 attorneys, and an annual gross of more than $600 million putting them in the top 100 highest earning law firms in the country. SEACC claims hiring LM is just due diligence because this is uncharted territory for them, but c’mon really? Talk about bringing a bazooka to a fist fight! This is disappointing and unfortunately indicative of the money businesses spend, and the lows to which management interests will stoop to prevent workers from exercising their rights. Ultimately what managers fear is not losing finances, but rather giving up total control. That’s why we see even “good” businesses and organizations fight so hard to stop unions in their tracks.

People might say they support unions in theory but that a non-profit or a small business (especially a good one) isn’t the right place for a union, I disagree. The union movement includes workers across nearly every trade, industry and profession including workers at non-profits. For too long non-profit employees have been asked to make sacrifices in the name of their organization’s mission. Nonprofit staff work long hours, usually wear multiple hats, and make things happen no matter what because they are dedicated to the mission of their nonprofit. While laudable, that dedication to the mission should never be exploited. If a business model relies on workers choosing between the mission, they care about (as SEACC staff clearly do) and conceding long-term economic security it is not ultimately sustainable.

At the end of the day the fundamental power and promise of unions is that workers demand a seat at the table when it comes to wages, benefits and working conditions. I see no reason why SEACC which — has been a longtime advocate for progressive values in our region should stand in the way of building or strengthening its relationship with staff based on equality and respect.

I’ve seen the union difference in my own life. I am a union represented employee at a labor union. Our staff of around seven made the decision a decade ago to form a union. We won the right negotiate the contract that we work under and through that process we advocate for each other, ourselves and our families while remaining dedicated to the work of our organization and its members.

That process has paid dividends in terms of workplace culture, employee retention, and a shared economic interest between workers and management in the long-term economic health of the organization.

Ultimately the outcome of this new SEACC campaign will be hashed out between SEACC workers and their management, but as a community we can show solidarity. I urge members, and donors of SEACC to practice their progressive values, reach out to the management and board members and urge them to voluntarily recognize the newly formed union SEACC United.

Miguel Rohrbacher is a member IBEW 1547. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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