Audubon workers in Pennsylvania vote to unionize | Labor | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Audubon workers in Pennsylvania vote to unionize

After a year-long effort, Audubon workers in Pennsylvania overwhelmingly approved a vote to unionize on Dec. 13. The state workers at the Audubon Society — a nonprofit conservation group dedicated to preserving birds and bird habitat — will organize with the Communication Workers of America national labor union, and according to a press release, the union will ensure better benefits and bargaining power for employees. Audubon workers in Maryland also organized on Dec. 13 with Pennsylvania workers as part of the Mid-Atlantic vote.

The Audubon workers will join the Audubon for All union, which began at Audubon’s national headquarters where members voted to form a union with CWA earlier this year, becoming one of several environmental groups of workers to recently form a union. The number of unionized environmental groups includes The Center for Biological Diversity, Sunrise Movement, the Sierra Club, and Greenpeace.

“After over a year of organizing and fighting for a voice on the job, it’s an incredible feeling to finally have won union recognition and join our colleagues in Audubon’s national headquarters and the North Carolina regional office,” said Jose Santiago, coordinator at The Discovery Center of Audubon Pennsylvania, in a news release. “I know we still have a long road ahead in bargaining for better working conditions, fair pay and good benefits, but we cannot misjudge the importance of this moment.

According to a tweet from Audubon for All union, the Mid-Atlantic workers voted 10-3 in favor of the union.

More Audubon workers in nine regions in the U.S. will also vote soon on whether to form a union in separate National Labor Relations Board elections. These include employees in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Arizona and New Mexico, New York and Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Alaska, Washington, Vermont, and California. If approved, over 120 Audubon employees would be represented by CWA, in addition to the 131 workers at the national headquarters.

Audubon workers started their plans for unionizing after handling two rounds of layoffs in 2020 and having the cost of their health care increase amid the pandemic. Another reason for their unionization push is to help fight against the “toxic” work environment, according to a release.

In May, law firm Morgan Lewis conducted a 12-week audit of the National Audubon Society and found a culture of harassment, intimidation, and fear against women and people of color. The report revealed several claims, including that white men in the organization carried unreasonable influence over decisions and that Audubon Human resources discouraged employees from making complaints about the discrimination in the work environment.

In a May note announcing the report, Audubon board chair Maggie Walker wrote "While the Morgan Lewis report did not verify all allegations, it did substantiate a culture of retaliation, fear, and antagonism towards women and people of color and tolerance of bullying and other bad behavior. This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

According to a press release, Audubon workers agreed unionization was their best opportunity to address those concerns, with the hope it will help reduce the discrimination of people of color and women in the environment.