US PIRG and Environment America form union

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Employees of the Public Interest Network, a sprawling organization that includes US PIRG and Environment America, announced that they had formed a union today and called on their leaders to recognize it.

Representatives of the new public interest union told E&E News that the organizing drive stems from frustration with management decision-making and that these issues permeate all branches of the network.

Low wages, a lack of diversity and a “reluctance to publicly support environmental justice work” are behind the union push, said Zachary Barber, a clean air advocate at PennEnvironment.

“Ultimately, these same themes exist across all brands,” said Mireille Bejjani, director of energy justice at Community Action Works. “They flow from central decision-making, and these are policies that apply to everyone.”

Organizers said 70 percent of the 215 proposed eligible members supported the effort. About 55 percent signed a letter to group president Doug Phelps calling him today to voluntarily acknowledge the effort.

The letter praised the organization’s long-standing dedication to social change and activism.

But he also called on him to re-commit to “staff development now and in the future”, alluding to the long-term concerns of employees in the workplace.

“The Public Interest Union wants nothing more that our organization be the strongest voice possible for the public,” they wrote. “To achieve this, we need to improve the recruitment and retention of talented and passionate organizers and make our organizational culture and structure better reflect the ideals we all work to achieve.

Employees wish to join the International Union of Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU), Local 2.

The public interest network had not provided a response to the letter at the time of publication.

The Denver-based group is an almost 50-year-old umbrella organization that supports a wide range of national and local projects primarily focused on climate change, environmental issues and consumer protection.

Perhaps its best-known groups are the Public Interest Research Groups, or PIRGs, which grew out of an effort by Ralph Nader in the 1970s.

Today, a dozen groups make up the network, including major players like Environment America and its state chapters. Others include the National Environmental Law Center, and the group claims “over 400” employees, “thousands of volunteers and canvassers” and “1.5 million supporters” in all 50 states and Washington, DC.

Parts of the network have found themselves embroiled in workplace controversy over the years. The Public Interest Fund, the prodigious fundraising arm of PIRG, has been sued and concluded a class action settlement of $ 2.19 million over its treatment of workers, and is would be engaged in strongly anti-union practices. the Daily beast nicknamed him a “liberal sweatshop. “

The organization won early accolades from Green 2.0, a nonprofit dedicated to diversity in the environmental movement.

“Delighted to see organizations organizing to give voice to their staff,” said Andrés Jimenez, its executive director.

The Public Interest Union comes after a series of organizational efforts in the environmental movement over the past two years. Employees of the National Audubon Society have succeeded in forming a union after contentious workplace issues were made public, and regional and state offices are seeking to expand it. Wildlife advocates also formed a union this year.

In strong terms, the organizers said that recognition of the union is the best way for the network to publicly demonstrate its commitment to the stated values, and stressed that they will be successful if the leadership forces an election to the National Council of professional relationships.

“By democratizing our decision-making process and recognizing the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion and mutual support within and outside our organization,” they wrote, “our staff and the Network of public interest as a whole will be better able to face a future made uncertain by the climate crisis, this damn pandemic or the precariousness of American democracy. ”


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