While most of the national conversation understandably focuses on the role and popularity of unions within the corporate workforce, a parallel movement for unionization is taking place within the nonprofit sector, as well.

The Nonprofit Professional Employees Union Sees Substantial Growth

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 70 was established in 1998. In 2018, in honor of its 20th anniversary and its rapid growth over the previous decade, IFPTE Local 70 rebranded as the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union. From 2010 to 2017, NPEU’s membership jumped from 70 nonprofit professionals to 250 (NPEU, 2018). Today, NPEU counts around 1500 members representing nearly 50 organizations (Sabbaghi, 2022).

Those organizations run the gamut, from the Economic Policy Institute and National Women’s Law Center to Food & Water Watch and the ACLU. That spectrum is reflected by the wide array of unionized nonprofits across the field. Indeed, organizations of all mission areas — from museums to think tanks, universities, and environmental groups — have been steadily joining the union movement.

NPEU even disputes the BLS statistics on declining union membership. According to Zane McNeill from Law @ the Margins in March 2022, NPEU’s then-president (now international vice president) Katie Barrows “believe[s] that the BLS statistics do not reflect gains in new industries, such as the non-profit sector, which she has seen major growth in the past few years” (para. 5).

Nonprofit Unions are Reaching Beyond Salaries and Benefits

Unionization efforts are coming from both sides — from nonprofit employees eager to engage in collective bargaining and from existing labor unions eager to expand membership. As early as 2000, Jan Masaoka (now CEO of CalNonprofits) noted in Nonprofit Quarterly that “labor unions are increasingly attracted to community-based nonprofit organizations. One reason for labor’s interest is the rapid growth of the nonprofit sector, both in terms of the size of its workforce and the amount of revenue generated” (para. 2).

What Could Move This Movement Forward

Don Howard, president and CEO of the James Irvine Foundation, and Rachel Korberg, co-founder and executive director of the Families and Workers Fund, tried to persuade philanthropy to support workers’ rights in a 2022 op-ed for The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “State and federal governments have the primary responsibility for expanding collective bargaining rights and strengthening labor protections,” they wrote. “But philanthropy can help by supporting groups that raise awareness of labor laws, monitor enforcement, and help workers advocate for reforms” (para. 12).

Read the full article about nonprofit employees moving to unionize by Tory Martin and Pat Robinson at Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy.