Pictured: PartnersGlobal staff after announcing their intent to form a union. Daphne pictured to the lower left-hand side.
After several months of organizing with OPEIU Local 2, we obtained near unanimous staff support, and the organization voluntarily recognized our union a few weeks later. From there, we negotiated a contract that has helped to codify clear and fair policies, while also securing priority items that staff identified. Our new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) went into effect in October of 2019, and it has changed our workplace for the better. Here are some of the highlights:
Creating Transparency and Establishing Fair Pay
While bargaining our contract, staff worked in partnership with management to devise clear and updated policies, along with a mechanism to ensure the equal implementation of these uniform standards. Prior to establishing our union, employees in different departments experienced different working conditions from one another. Not only did the enforcement of policies and procedures vary by manager, but written guidelines were hard to access and out of date. Our new contract has provided much needed clarity for staff, reducing the need to sort simple tasks out with HR and providing employees confidence in their working conditions.
In addition, we secured an equitable pay scale that ensures a living wage for all staff. Before our union was formed, employees with similar qualifications and the same title could have drastically variant salaries, depending on their departments. In one case, two employees with close backgrounds and the same title discovered a $15,000 difference in their pay. In addition to balancing out these inexplicable inequities, we brought the wage floor up from $35,000/year (my own starting salary) to $41,000/year, which is much more livable in Washington DC. Every individual on staff secured at least a 4% raise, with some individuals gaining more than 40% increases.
Encouraging Work-Life Balance
Most small nonprofits struggle to strike a healthy work-life balance, and PartnersGlobal is no exception. While instilling a culture shift doesn’t happen overnight, we focused on making changes that would allow staff to lead full lives outside of their jobs.
One of our biggest wins was a new parental leave policy that guarantees eight weeks of paid leave to any employee upon the birth or adoption of their child, or upon gaining a foster child. Prior to this, our benefits only applied to women who had physically given birth and who could access these benefits through our short-term disability policy. This limited policy provided no additional leave, and was inaccessible to men or to parents that chose to adopt children. With eight paid weeks to adjust to a big life change, staff feel less pressure to choose between a career they love and raising a family.
The contract has also contributed to a culture change around overtime accrued through travel and excessive workloads. Our previous policy was confusing – it changed three times in my first year at PartnersGlobal. This made it difficult to request compensatory time, as well as to use it. Now, our policy is clear cut and built into existing approval systems. The ease of accruing and then using compensatory time has helped myself and others feel more comfortable to take time off. I feel better rested and recovered after my work-related trips.
Furthering the Mission by Creating a More Efficient Organization
The bargaining unit and management alike recognized the need to update antiquated policies that contributed to organizational inefficiencies. Through bargaining, our performance review process was completely revamped through a joint development process of union members and management. Together, we crafted a new system that ensures employees receive regular, thoughtful feedback from their supervisors. Employees have the opportunity to learn and grow, while management is able to point staff in the right direction to ensure they do their jobs well.
When everyone is able to do their jobs more effectively, the workplace runs more smoothly. Now we can spend more time focusing on the substantive work we are doing in the field.
Providing a Voice on the Job
PartnersGlobal promotes participatory decision making processes around the world. Now, we practice what we preach internally. Our union ensures that we always have a seat at the table in the decisions that affect our workplace, truly living our values of workplace democracy.
Our organization began a strategic planning process as we wrapped up contract negotiations, and we have since undergone an organizational restructure. Many staff were nervous about these changes. We wondered if positions would be eliminated, if our jobs would substantively change, and if our economic security was at risk. Our union helped to instill a sense of calm among us. While we did not have complete control over the outcomes, our union was given a seat at the decision-making table to ensure that bargaining unit perspectives are integrated into decision making at all stages.
For decades, PartnersGlobal has worked around the world to transform conflict, strengthen democratic institutions, and achieve sustainable development. Perhaps its largest asset throughout this time has been its committed staff, who bring passion, expertise, and empathy to our important work. Through our union, we continue to strengthen our workplace culture and ensure that all staff – from longtime employees to new hires – have the necessary support and protection to carry out the mission. Are you interested in forming a union at your workplace? Feel free to reach out to OPEIU Local 2 to learn more.
OPEIU Local 2 is a labor union supporting over 8,000 professional workers in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia. We represent staff members across a number of sectors, including healthcare, non-profit, and more.