Employees of the Public Interest Network, a large organization that includes U.S. PIRG, Environment America, and other organizations, announced today that they had formed a union and asked for their leadership to recognize it.
Representatives of the new Public Interest Union told E&E News that the organizing drive stems from frustration with management’s decisionmaking process, and that those issues permeate all arms of the network.
The union push is driven by low pay, inequity, and a “unwillingness” to publicly support environmental justice, according to Zachary Barber at PennEnvironment.
Mireille Bejjani from Community Action Works, energy justice director, stated, “At the end, these same themes are across all the brands.” They are policies that all can benefit from, and they come from central decisionmaking.
Organizers stated that 70 percent support the effort from the 215 potential eligible members. About 55 percent of the 215 eligible members signed a Let me know to the group’s president, Doug Phelps, today calling on him to voluntarily recognize the effort.
The letter lauded the organization’s longtime dedication to social change and activism.
However, it asked it to recommit the “flourishing” of current and future staff. This hinting at concerns about long-term employee workplace conditions.
They wrote, “The Public Interest Union wants nothing else than for our organization be the strongest possible voice to the public.” “To achieve this, we must increase recruitment and retention of talented organizers and make sure that our organizational culture and structure reflect the ideals we are all working towards.
The employees are interested in joining the Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 2.
As of press time, the Public Interest Network had not responded to the letter.
The Denver-based umbrella group has been around for nearly 50 years and supports a wide range state and local projects that are primarily focused on climate and environmental issues.
The Public Interest Research Groups or PIRGs are perhaps the most well-known of its many components. They were created by Ralph Nader’s 1970s effort.
The network now has about a dozen members, including major players like Environment America or its state chapters. The National Environmental Law Center is another group that makes up the network. It boasts “more than 400” staff, thousands of canvassers and volunteers, and “1.5million supporters” in all 50 US states and Washington, D.C.
Over the years, parts of the network have been involved in workplace controversy. The Fund for the Public Interest, PIRG’s prodigious fundraising arm, has faced lawsuits and reached a $2.19 million class action settlement stemming from its treatment of workers, and has allegedly engaged in strongly anti-union practices. The Daily BeastIt is also known as “The Big One.”Liberal sweatshop.”
Green 2.0, a non-profit dedicated to diversity in the environment movement, initially praised the organizing.
“Nice to see organizations unionizing to give their staff a voice,” said Andrés Jimenez, its executive director.
After a series of organizing efforts in environmental movements over the past few years, the Public Interest Union was established. After contentious workplace issues were made publicly, employees at the National Audubon Society established a union. Regional and state offices are looking to expand it. Defenders of Wildlife established a similar union this year.
The organizers stated in strong terms that recognition of the union was the best way for the network’s commitment to stated values. They also stressed that they will succeed if management forces a National Labor Relations Board Election.
“By democraticizing our decision making process and acknowledging that diversity, equity and mutual support are important within and outside our organization,” they wrote. “Our staff and The Public Interest Network as an entire will be better equipped to weather a uncertain future caused by the climate crisis or the pandemic in America.”