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UCS United

UCS Unionizing Efforts Origin Story

We come from those staff most impacted and intentionally marginalized at UCS.

Just like every movement for social change that attempts to redistribute power and to address oppressive and unjust systems, our origin comes from the bottom up. It comes from the efforts of the workers who are most affected and least listened to—women, BIPOC folk, and younger people—who connected with allies about how to create change.

Our roots began with BIPOC staff surfacing issues within UCS. They expressed frustration around a pattern of availing themselves of every opportunity, space, and route for feedback—through internal surveys, working groups, focus groups, and the creation of proposals—to guide change in the organization, with minimal action taking place as a result. Staff outlined difficulties with managers who never seemed to be held accountable, even when multiple complaints had been filed against them. Staff were getting nowhere with reporting concerns to HR and continued to endure inequities with pay, promotions, and working conditions. These realizations spurred pockets of conversations between women—BIPOC and White—that ultimately became the beginning of our union efforts.

Additional outrage came with the lack of transparency and the top-down management style during UCS management’s response to staff raising concerns about organizational relationships with individuals whose history of anti-immigration and population control work is troubling. These conversations felt glaringly one-sided to many, exhibiting the power and privilege that plays into UCS governance, coupled with displays of white fragility. Many staff felt the message was clear: “if you disagree with decision-making structures that support white supremacy culture and reinforce the power imbalances of the status quo, you can leave UCS”. Several did.

Overall, staff felt disempowered—so we organized!

An intentional, inclusive, and just process for representation.

In the spring and summer of 2019, with staff suffering microaggressions, lacking support, and feeling disempowered and demoralized by the displays from our management, a cross-office group began meeting weekly to figure out how to unionize. There was no prior experience with starting unions; it was going to be a figure-out-as-you-go effort. We drafted an organizing plan proposal that outlined the purpose, mission, values, and process to focus on creating a structure that uproots patriarchal and white supremacy systems and that reflects the inclusive, equitable culture we seek to create. Ultimately, we found a home within the Progressive Workers Union.

Almost one year later, after weekly discussions with a group that grew due to outreach to new folks, and that shrunk due to staff leaving (many because of the issues that are central to why we need a union), we interviewed a number of unions. We met with two large unions—Communications Worker of America and United Auto Workers—and two small unions—Nonprofit Employees Union and Progressive Workers Union (PWU). We asked unions what their cultures are like, how they make decisions, and what their values are. We wanted to make sure that our voice doesn’t get lost in the larger union, that we are centering the experiences and concerns of Women, BIPOC staff, and other marginalized staff, and that these folks wouldn’t have to replicate the work that we do at UCS via task forces, etc. Many months of conversations, voting, and surveys resulted in a consensus that PWU was the best fit for us. PWU speaks the most concisely and powerfully to the issues we care about. They share a similar work environment, and they are tackling very similar issues.

Progressive Workers Union stands out.

Growing and entering our next phase together.

The Summer of 2020 has been a busy time for us. Our numbers are growing, not in small part due to the open letter from former UCS staffers, ruth tyson, followed by Vivian Chang and Tiffany Hsieh, sharing about their experiences as staffers with BIPOC identities at UCS. On August 24, 2020—with a supermajority of union eligible employees on board—we have formally announced our intent to unionize. We are still awaiting voluntary recognition by UCS management. We have asked our management team to recognize us by August 28, 2020.

We, the staff of UCS, are the union.
We make UCS’ work possible.
We put our hearts, souls, minds, and bodies into the work.
We, too often, are paid lowest, deprioritized, and treated unfairly.
We have collective power.
We are unionizing to bring that collective power to improve the culture and conditions for all staff by centering our most marginalized people.
We are the union!