Unions Are For Nonprofits

Winter 2023-2024 IAM Journal

Nonprofit organizations strive for community service and the common good. Nonprofit workers have realized that resolving workplace problems can create a better environment for skilled and passionate employees, resulting in more effective organizations, and joining a union is seen as the best solution.

The IAM Western Territory has been working hard to address the challenge of organizing in sectors where the machinist label may not always be known. This crucial task cannot be emphasized enough, as it provides a chance to expand the IAM’s reach and empower workers.

At the IAM, we are passionate about promoting fairness and equity in the workplace and giving back to the community through our guiding principle of “Justice on the job, Service to the community.” Given these shared values, it is only natural for the IAM to strive towards organizing workers who align with our mission.

“The Machinists Union’s motto clearly represents our values, and it only seems logical for us to seek to organize and represent workers who share those same principles,” said IAM Western Territory General Vice President Gary R. Allen.

Justice on the Job: Nonprofits Need Unions, Too

Working at a mission-based organization may provide a sense of fulfillment, but it’s not without its hurdles. Nonprofit workers are frequently plagued by burnout caused by low salaries and emotional investment. Joining a union can be a daunting decision for nonprofit workers as they balance their commitment to the organization’s reputation with their own labor rights. Nonetheless, they face significant challenges, including understaffing, increased workloads, and decreased benefits.

Nonprofits that are unionized can significantly benefit from reduced employee turnover rates and improved staff retention. Workers can secure a broad range of employee benefits with a union contract, such as generous vacation time, parental leave, retirement contributions, professional development opportunities, and other incentives. These benefits help employees feel appreciated and supported throughout their careers, leading to a more engaged and satisfied workforce.

Nonprofit workers are still workers and deserve justice and a voice in their workplace. The IAM Western Territory is no stranger to advocating for important causes and promoting solidarity among workers.

Solidarity and respect should be at the core of the progressive movement’s efforts to establish equitable workplaces and fair society, not exploitation. Nonprofit workers have a chance to unite and enhance their workplaces while fortifying the causes they champion through a union contract.

Bargaining to Serve Our Communities Better

IAM District 947 currently has approximately 250 members working at 10 nonprofit organizations in California.

CARECEN, which stands for Central American Resource Center, was among the pioneering nonprofit organizations organized by the IAM. The organization offers affordable immigration services in the Los Angeles region. Despite its noble mission, there was rampant discrimination and unequal treatment of workers. Recognizing the urgent need for change, workers joined the IAM to fight for their rights and have a voice in the workplace.

When CARECEN workers overwhelmingly voted to join the IAM, news quickly spread throughout the region that there was now a union that understood the principles of nonprofit work and the needs of its employees.

The IAM recognizes the importance of a supportive framework that enables workers to unite and increase their collective strength. From the outset, this realization was evident to IAM District 947 President and Directing Business Representative Sal Vasquez. In the initial campaigns to organize nonprofit organizations, including CARECEN, he identified the leadership qualities of Marin Esquivel and saw an opportunity to empower workers and build strength.

Esquivel was CARECEN’s event coordinator who led their organizing efforts, but her commitment to helping others didn’t stop there. Her extensive expertise and experience, coupled with the undying encouragement of her machinist colleagues and the leadership of the IAM Western Territory, resulted in the emergence of District 947 as a powerful force in organizing passionate and dedicated workers within the nonprofit sector.

“Marin’s tireless efforts have yielded impressive organizing campaigns and have helped to advance the important causes that these organizations champion,” said Vasquez.
District 947 is now working with 10 separate nonprofits, seven of which have already negotiated their first contract. These nonprofits operate in various issue-areas, including wage equality, prison reform, refugees, and community resource centers.

“One of the pillars of the machinists is service to the community, and how beautiful is it to represent organizations that do just that, to advocate for those
that advocate for others,” said IAM District 947 Business Representative/Organizer Jennifer Marin.

An example of how IAM assisted nonprofit workers is seen in the case of East LA Community Corporation (ELACC). Due to financial constraints, ELACC had to lay off its employees. The IAM intervened and helped the affected staff receive severance from the organization. Furthermore, the union ensured that the employees were placed on a recall list so those wishing to return to work could be recalled and receive a salary.

“People have started to see what the union is, and I think each of them has their own story,” said Esquivel. “We have one of the best relationships with management, and that’s not how it was at the beginning.”

District 947 faced complicated negotiations with Kids In Need of Defense LA (KIND), an organization dedicated
to providing legal support to unaccompanied minors. Although their mission is admirable, workers were taken aback by their opposition to unionization. This incident made for a challenging negotiation, especially as they enlisted legal counsel from Paul Hastings, LLC, known for its anti-union stance.

Despite having to confront anti-union rhetoric and tactics, the workers of KIND persevered with their organizing efforts. Their commitment to supporting their local communities and fighting for their own rights as workers ultimately led to their success in achieving union recognition and securing a robust collective bargaining agreement.

“Our members understand the strength that comes from working together,” said Vasquez.

IAM Western Territory Leading the Way for Cause-Driven and Worker-Driven Organizing

By helping nonprofit organizations organize and secure bold contracts, the IAM can create new growth opportunities and improve workers’ lives in various industries.

“A worthwhile mission doesn’t pay the bills or bring food to the table,” said Allen. “Let’s stop expecting nonprofit workers to sacrifice their livelihoods for the greater good. We should prioritize union contracts that provide fair wages, work-life balance, and adequate benefits to attract and retain passionate professionals in this important sector.”

The IAM Western Territory is setting the standard for cause-driven and worker-driven organizing. Their victories in the nonprofit sector are genuinely making a difference and paving the way for workers to follow.

“Through the power of a union, workers can confidently ensure that their employer stays true to their stated mission and values,” said Vasquez.