TROY — Union members took their lunch break in a damp corner of River Street on Friday, calling their employer with a megaphone and pumping up that classic picket machine, the giant money-grabbing pig.
The difference this time was that the target of their anger is a nonprofit — Capital Roots, a community-based organization with a longstanding mission to fight unhealthy diets in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Schenectady counties. .
The pig (and his friend the big inflatable cat) weren’t there because Capital Roots is making money, but because they’re building a building next door with non-union labor.
Union representation is less common in the nonprofit workforce than in the for-profit sector. Doubly unusual: Capital Roots voluntarily accepted the decision of approximately 20 of its employees and recognized them as a unit of SEIU Local 200United. Many employers force the issue to an employee vote, and the process sometimes turns into an angry exchange.
Capital Roots announced the decision on July 5, saying it reflects the organization’s mission and the service goals it shares with its employees. In their own July 5 announcement, union organizers greeted the decision with a mixture of triumph and optimism.
Fast forward a month to August 5:
Capital Roots fired one of the main organizers and another employee who was a staunch (though less vocal) advocate of unionization, and any tentative goodwill expressed by both sides evaporated. The union filed 15 unfair labor practice complaints.
The two ex-employees joined some of their former colleagues and supporters outside the Capital Roots headquarters, spilling onto the sidewalks on all four corners of Jay and River Streets until police called them. pushes back onto the sidewalk.
Cody Bloomfield, who was Capital Roots’ volunteer coordinator until this week, said she was fired without explanation or cause.
She said when she questioned instructions to travel to a remote site for a meeting on Tuesday, CEO Amy Klein told her she was insubordinate, told her to go home, and then threatened to have her arrested for trespassing when she requested a meeting with management and her union representative. Bloomfield said Capital Roots fired her the next day via email.
“I’ve been a great employee at Capital Roots, I have fantastic reviews,” she said. “There are a lot of volunteers here today who support me because they are sad to see me go, because I facilitated their volunteering.”
She added, “I’ve definitely been a strong supporter, a face of this labor organizing effort. … I’ve also been very vocal in the building. So I believe I was absolutely targeted.
Bloomfield said she remains committed to both roles: the work she did for Capital Roots and the organizing effort for her employees.
“I would love to be reinstated, what we are doing here is really important work and I have loved being part of the organizing effort. I would like to see it to the end.
Greg Campbell-Cohen said he was fired shortly after reporting misconduct by Klein.
“Then I reported further alleged misconduct and the next working day I was asked to work from home. After a week I was fired for a bunch of things I didn’t I never even received informal warnings. It was obviously retaliation, and it was all because of the support for the union and attention to workplace issues,” he said.
“I was a well-known supporter of unions even before there was a push in the workplace, but I tried to keep my support completely silent until I signed my union card and a lawyer reviews my job description and agrees that yes, you are eligible for the bargaining unit. But I would say I was one of the quieter supporters.
Retaliatory firings are illegal under federal labor law. But baristas trying to organize Starbucks stores say it’s happening there, and order pickers trying to organize Amazon warehouses say it’s happening there. Both companies deny it.
Similarly, Capital Roots denies the charges brought to it on Friday. He said via email:
“The Board’s decision to voluntarily recognize a union of Capital Roots employees remains the policy and intent of the Board and management of Capital Roots. Unfortunately, we are aware of numerous factually inaccurate and defamatory allegations made against CEO Amy Klein and her management team by some union supporters. We categorically reject them.
“Management did not act unlawfully, and its actions, taken to support the leadership of the organization in forming this new relationship, were guided by the principles of the organization, our rules of workplace conduct work and the law. They have nevertheless been manipulated and deformed in false claims of unfair practices and retaliation. These claims are not true.
Capital Roots began in Troy in 1972 as Capital District Community Gardens. Today, it supports 55 community gardens in the region and a variety of general and specialized nutrition programs, including Veggie Mobile and Squash Hunger. Klein has been CEO for 25 years.
Sean Collins, an organizer with SEIU Local 200United, said wages aren’t the main factor behind this organizing drive.
“They’re not asking for executive salaries, and no one would argue that Amy makes a lot of money, that’s not the point,” he said. “It’s about the culture of the organization internally.”
Campbell-Cohen said, “We understand there’s not a lot of money to work with. We’re talking about really basic stuff – why don’t we have direct deposit? We do not have an HR manager. It’s a question of respect more than salary.
Bloomfield said, “It’s largely a seat at the table… there’s no transparency in this organization.”
Two other nonprofits in the Capital Region have seen labor campaigns this year: a group of workers from the Northeast Parent and Child Society in Schenectady voted to join the Civil Service Employees Association in May and a group from Joseph’s House in Troy has requested to be represented by SEIU Local 200United.
Collins said nonprofit employees are relatively new to the organized workplace.
“I think the rationale behind organizing nonprofit workers is that these organizations have these mission statements and values that they espouse, but when it comes to actual working conditions, they’re totally incongruous,” did he declare.
Nonprofits could pay better salaries, Collins believes. But while they’re never as good as they are in the for-profit sector, the financial limitations of nonprofit organizations don’t stop them from fostering an internal culture of respect, where work rules are agreed upon rather than imposed. , did he declare.
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