How Nonprofit Management Should Treat Pro-Labor Millennials

Previously on Nonprofit Pro Media, we discussed the economic distress experienced by millennials, and how their financial plight has changed public opinion on labor organizing.

Unions experienced a precipitous drop-off in membership from the 1970s to the present. The public’s understanding and appreciation of labor unions followed a similar trajectory. The advent of the sharing economy, however, has resulted in a decidedly pro-labor environment, as contract workers in the rising millennial workforce miss out on the benefits that older generations enjoyed while struggling to make ends meet.

There are a number of reasons why nonprofits should treat pro-labor staffers with respect, valuing their opinions and working with them to create a more just workplace equipped to pursue the social good.

In today’s marketplace, millennials offer a number of indispensable skills; they excel at digital marketing, understand how to employ software to enhance productivity, and are adept at quickly researching and synthesizing disparate bits of information to solve complex problems. Additionally, millennials are passionate about social causes, including labor rights. Unions are adapting to millennial interests – such as social justice and equality – in efforts to appeal to them.

If your organization wants to attract the best talent of this generation, you cannot afford to under-compensate or exploit your workers. Doing so will hamstring your organization’s ability to hire skilled and passionate employees, thereby threatening your nonprofit’s efficiency in the long-run.

Furthermore, millennials make up a growing share of the voting public. This past election cycle, Generations X and Y surpassed baby boomers as the largest share of votes cast. Whether or not today’s political class is willing to accept it, millennials will soon be the decision-makers. Public policy affects all sectors, including nonprofits; building good faith and affinity with rising generations today can pave the way toward a fruitful relationship with the political class of tomorrow.

Here are five steps nonprofit management can take to ensure a just workplace:

1) Be Transparent
This may sound obvious, but as we explored in the second post of this series, nonprofits often overwork their employees. One deceitful way of doing so includes withholding key details of an employee’s rights and benefits. While nonprofit professionals are committed to advancing the social good, they also want to live balanced lives, and should be able to take advantage of all their contract has to offer.

2) Encourage Your Workers’ Passion
Studies show that millennial workers value employers who provide them with opportunities to contribute to the social good. While nonprofit professionals are able to work toward positive social causes on a daily basis, there is always room for organizational management to further harness the passions of its staff. Make sure to engage your millennial employees; ask them how the organization can better pursue its mission and adhere to its values. Invite discussion around the most pressing issues facing your nonprofit’s particular area of focus. Doing so will prevent daily work from becoming rote while strengthening your staff’s commitment to the organization’s agenda.

3) Understand Labor Rights
It’s the law: employees can express opinions about labor organizing and confer with their colleagues without interference from management. The fundraising affiliate for U.S. PIRG and Environment America shuttered entire offices that had threatened to unionize. The organization also pursued anti-labor polices that the National Labor Relations Board deemed illegal. Do not waste your organization’s resources on potential legal trouble: you will only tarnish your nonprofit’s image in the process.

4) Open Dialogue
If you are concerned that your organization cannot cope with a unionized workforce, talk with your employees instead of trying to derail their conversations. Many private businesses run disinformation campaigns to stymie labor organizing. This could have the unwanted effect of sowing division among your workforce – the last thing that a nonprofit needs. By addressing employee’s concerns from the start, you can prevent the situation from getting more complicated.

5) Provide a Seat at the Table
When everyone’s voice is heard, it is easier to work together. If your workers unionize, don’t panic. Nonprofits already navigate the back-and-forth between management, board, and funders. Educate your organization’s key stakeholders about the merits of unionizing and how it can benefit your organization’s brand by connecting with the key interests of millennials. At the end of the day, creating a just and fair workplace not only creates staff cohesion, but builds longevity.

Millennials, Labor Unions, and Nonprofits

It’s no secret: millennials are earning less than their parents.

Some analyses put the decline in earnings around 20 percent. This is particularly debilitating for a generation that also possesses more student debt than its predecessors.

The reasons for the millennial wage slump are complicated. Older US citizens are working beyond retirement. Automation and cheap labor markets overseas have contributed to a (likely permanent) decline in US manufacturing. Highly profitable tech companies often make it big with small staffs.

There is also, of course, the “precariat”: the rise of non-salaried workers. This informal gig economy – embodied by the likes of Uber and Lyft – makes use of irregular employees to generate big profits. These explosive profits are incredibly stratified, with contractors at the bottom receiving no benefits and unpredictable compensation while those on top reap immense rewards.

While some pundits may contend that the gig economy is not meant to provide long-term employment, but rather serve as a stop-gap measure, the fact remains that economic opportunity is more diminished than any other point in modern history. People are landing in the gig economy and getting stuck in it.

This situation may be one of the reasons behind the surge in popularity of unions.

As of August, 61 percent of US citizens support labor unions, the highest rate in nearly 15 years.  Millennials no doubt play a huge role in this trend. Bernie Sanders, the most popular 2016  presidential candidate among millennials, was staunchly pro-union, and nearly 50 percent of Republican millennials support unions. That is an astonishing development showing a bipartisan trend in favor of labor organizing.

Unions are trying to take advantage of the change in public opinion, introducing social activism into their activities in order to attract millennials who value social justice. This was on display in January, 2017 when the New York Taxi Workers Alliance helped blockade access to JFK International Airport in response to Donald Trump’s travel ban on Muslims.

While companies in the sharing economy should take heed, so too should another part of the economy that has a fraught track record with unions: the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofits have struggled with unions and labor laws in recent years. Recall that large nonprofits such as U.S. PIRG opposed Obama’s overtime measure that would have guaranteed fair compensation for workers putting in more than 40 hours a week (note: a federal judge eventually blocked the rule, and the Department of Justice under Trump has since dropped the measure).

While U.S. PIRG was among many nonprofits that opposed the rule change, the organization has a particularly unfortunate history of anti-labor practices. For instance, a canvassing office in Los Angeles linked to the organization was abruptly shuttered and its employees let go after its staff decided to unionize. In 2012, yet another U.S. PIRG-affiliated office located in Portland fired employees who tried to organize with Communications Workers of America, resulting in a lawsuit that appeared before National Labor Relations Board.

Nonprofits are mission-based, the reasoning goes, so their employees should be mission-driven as opposed to profit-driven. Even if this approach lowers overhead and frees up resources for programmatic activities, does it truly fulfill a nonprofit’s general commitment to promoting social welfare?

In the next two posts on Nonprofit Pro Media, we will take a look at the intersection of millennials, nonprofits, and labor unions. Check in next week for a breakdown on labor abuses in the nonprofit sector.

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