Last week employees of the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research group (NSPIRG), a non-profit research and advocacy organization, voted to unionize. Their decision follows that of many other non-profit groups across Canada who have joined various unions.
NSPIRG is a small organization, located in the Dalhousie Student Union Building. Its employees engage in various research and administrative tasks, achieving the mission: linking research with action for social and environmental justice, within an anti-oppression framework.
They are joining the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2, who have helped workers from non-profit groups across the country get organized. Charity, advocacy and professional organizations’ staff, like those of The Salvation Army and Ontario Nurses Association, have unionized for various reasons.
Many of these people enjoy working in the non-profit sector as it allows them to work toward goals that they are passionate about. They also understand that liking their jobs does not preclude their right to bargain collectively.
Andrew Jantzen, of NSPIRG, explains: “We all enjoy and appreciate our work at NSPIRG. By joining a union, we now have the resources to ensure that our jobs are secure. This means we can work toward the organization’s goals more effectively.” In this instance, employees sought unionization to ensconce their positions at jobs they loved.
The union also recognizes that the non-profit is working toward admirable goals. SEIU Local 2’s Nova Scotia Branch President, Loretta Melanson, said she is “looking forward to contributing to amicable labour-relations at the PIRG. It’s work benefits our members, students and the entire community.”
NSPIRG Board of Directors members have recognized that having unionized workers will contribute to a harmonious employment relationship. “When we were told that staff wanted to form a union, we were immediately supportive,” says Board Member, John Hutton, “By having organized employees, we can rely on a stable, fair relationship.”
These examples put to the rest the mistaken opinion that non-profit workers cannot exercise their right to unionize. While the goals of a non-profit are often impressive, this does not guarantee a positive work environment or fair treatment. In fact, the altruistic nature of such work can often serve to undermine workers’ rights. The notion that “you don’t do it for the money” is a powerful rhetorical weapon that is often wielded against selfless working people.
This problem can be compounded by the casual relationship staff and volunteer boards of directors often have. When a volunteer board takes on the task of employer, it can be overwhelmed by the vast ocean of employment legislation it must now navigate. Having a union ensures that employees’ rights are not inadvertently disregarded by employers who have limited human-resources experience.
When an individual seeks employment in a field where she/he can feel fulfilled in a way that is more than financial, that decision should be venerated. Non-profit organizations who benefit from the work of altruistic employees should, in turn, recognize those workers’ efforts through fair treatment and decent remuneration. As civil-society groups gain greater esteem in the Atlantic Canadian polity, it is important that their employees continue to actualize their right to unionize.