Features, Municipal Government, New York

Nonprofit employees and other young professionals are the future of the labor movement

October 9, 2020

By Katie Barrows

I’ve grown to despise the term “millennial,” mostly due to the assumptions made about my generation. Time and again, I listen to those in my parents’ age group say, “ You millennials…,” followed by comments about how we are snowflakes who spend too much money on avocados. While I generally find fault with these stereotypes, one that I hope continues to characterize my generation is that we organize unions.

My union the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU) is contacted almost daily by young, nonprofit workers interested in forming unions. So far this year, nonprofit employees at 14 organizations have formed unions with us, four more have asked for (or are working on) voluntary recognition, and many others are in the process of unionizing with us. NPEU has continued to organize during the pandemic because we know that having a union is all the more important during uncertain times.

Nonprofit workers often unionize to live their values as well as their organization’s values. Our members work to advance women’s rights, immigrant rights, economic rights, civil rights, environmental rights, and human rights, all of which can be seen as workers’ rights. Additionally, nonprofit workers like other young professionals have had their idealism tested by living through the Great Recession, graduating with massive student debt, struggling to find a good job, and now living through a global pandemic. We are fed up and burned out and are looking to improve our situations by forming unions.

NPEU members have made all sorts of gains with their unions, both creating stronger nonprofits and sustainable careers for themselves. Our members have negotiated for better pay by establishing minimum salaries and annual raises. They’ve created more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces with pay equity reviews improved hiring procedures and anti-discrimination policies. They’ve also gained a greater say at their organizations with board seats and labor-management committees.

I hope one day soon the narrative about millennials will be that we led the new wave of unionization. Then when someone says to me, “You millennials like to join unions,” I’ll smile and say, “Yes, we do.”

Katie Barrows, Vice President of Communications for the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU), International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 70. Katie can be reached by email at kbarrows@npeu.org.

October 9, 2020

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