By Ann Beeson, Oliver Bernstein, Eva DeLuna Castro, Anne Dunkelberg, Luis Figueroa, Monifa Jordan, Amy Knop-Narbutis, and Chandra Kring Villanueva.
Today marks a milestone for our 35-year-old organization, as we sit down (virtually) for our first-ever collective bargaining session to negotiate a contract with our unionized staff members.
Every Texan voluntarily recognized the staff union in February with a joint celebration. Union membership in Texas is relatively low, and that is because of public policies that limit union activity and favor employers. These anti-union policies are related to a host of anti-worker policies that we at Every Texan fight to repeal or fix. From working to raise the minimum wage to fighting for paid sick leave for Texas workers, we know that social justice and workers’ rights require public policy.
We appreciate the workers at Every Texan who organized the union last fall. As values-driven, equity-committed managers, we voluntarily recognized the union and have been preparing for collective bargaining for months. We are grateful for the support of our talented and committed Board of Directors from across the state.
Starting from a Solid Base
One of our core values at Every Texan is learning, and we will come to the negotiations with humility and openness to listen and learn how we can be an even better employer.
We are committed to collaborative and inclusive leadership practices, and will build on our current practices to inform our approach to union bargaining. When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Texas in March, for example, we quickly closed our office and moved to working remotely to protect and support our workers. We set up a COVID-19 internal response team that includes two union staff members and two managers, and together we have listened to staff needs and developed policies to support our workers and protect public health.
In a similar collaborative approach, in 2016 we formed an internal Racial Equity Working Group comprised of diverse staff from all levels of the organization. The Working Group develops specific organization-wide race equity goals and meets monthly to coordinate and assess our progress. Last fall, the Working Group proposed ground-breaking changes to further deepen our commitment, and we have begun implementing them. We are deeply committed to doing this work until we get it right, through hard conversations, shared learning and deep reflection.
Strong Benefits Package
The benefits package our staff now receive is more generous than what many of our peers offer, and we look forward to working with the union to examine it further. All permanent and part-time workers currently receive fully covered health care (including dental and vision), half coverage of health care for dependents and generous paid sick leave and vacation time. Every Texan contributes 7% of workers’ salary to a retirement account, with no employee contribution required, and we also provide paid time off for volunteering. We pay our interns a competitive $15/hour and provide them with paid sick time and holidays.
To this point we have adhered to a standardized salary scale approved by the Board in paying all workers here at Every Texan, and we are strongly committed to pay equity. We have consistently raised salaries over the last several years, and we offer cost-of-living and merit raises each year as funds are available. While we may not be able to compete with salaries in the private sector, our salaries are competitive in the public policy and social justice space, on top of our generous benefits. We are committed to working with the union on a compensation scale that is sustainable and consistent with our social justice values. We want our compensation for all workers to enable us to continue to attract and retain talented staff who represent the diversity of Texas and will become part of the next generation of Texas leaders.
A Long Road Ahead
We won’t pretend that the collective bargaining process will be easy. Bargaining is, by nature, a contentious process, and we have no doubt the staff union representatives will bring their same grit and determination to the negotiations as they do to their policy advocacy at the Capitol.
Nor do we enter this bargaining process in a vacuum, immune to the anxiety and trauma in our country. The coronavirus pandemic reminds us daily of the connections between equity, policy and survival, and it has affected the way we do our work at Every Texan. The murders of Black people across the country and the pain this causes people of color in particular are raw realities at this moment. We are engaging deeply to reflect on and to do our part to dismantle oppressive structures.
We welcome an honest, data-driven bargaining process guided by our shared social justice values so that Every Texan is the best organization for everyone who works here. Let’s get started!