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A year after National Audubon Society workers voted to unionize, the union representing them has filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over disputes over wages and health benefits.
The first complaint, known as an unfair labor practice charge, filed by Communications Workers of America claims that since early May, Audubon management “has refused to negotiate wages for bargaining unit employees, including the minimum wage.
The second complaint claims Audubon violated the National Labor Relations Act “by unilaterally changing the terms of employment regarding health care benefits to undermine the union’s role as the exclusive representative of the unit negotiation”.
The health care benefits complaint stems from a change the nonprofit made to employee benefits in November.
Workers say the new plan amounts to a 50 percent increase in costs for employees. A union spokesperson said: “The plan offering the most affordable premiums last year had a $2,000 excess and a maximum of $4,000 to pay. Under the new plan, the deductible is $3,000 and the maximum amount payable is $6,000 for the same premiums.
Diana Wilson, a union member who works as a communications associate at Audubon Connecticut and New York, says management began negotiating with the union over a new health care plan, but “didn’t really allow for our negotiating committee to come up with a proposal.” a counter-proposal” before announcing changes to the plan.
In a statement, JJ Blitstein, Audubon’s director of labor relations, said: “Faced with a significant increase in costs, Audubon has negotiated with our insurance company a plan for 2023 with an increase in gross costs of one little more than 2%. Audubon continues to cover 83% of staff bonuses, has a progressive pay structure in which higher earners pay more for the same plans, and provides the same network of doctors so as not to disrupt care.
“Audubon has complied with the NLRA at all times and we remain committed to negotiating openly and in good faith on all issues.”
Maxine Griffin Somerville, the organization’s chief human resources and culture officer, adds, “As insurance premiums skyrocket, we care deeply about our Audubon staff and continue to provide comprehensive benefits and high quality.
Wilson says that aside from specific complaints about wages and benefits, the union wants to feel a sense of partnership with Audubon management.
“What the union is asking for is really not that extreme,” Wilson said. “We ask them once again that they negotiated in good faith. We are asking that Audubon come to the bargaining table to collaborate with us, to work with us, to create an organization where employees can be supported and feel supported, which will allow us to continue to do the essential work. What we do for people to support Audubon for: Things like conservation and community programs, the scientific work we do, the journalistic work we do. All of this cannot exist and cannot happen, and certainly cannot happen with the quality with which we are able to currently disseminate it without a body of workers who feel and are supported by Audubon leadership .
It is difficult to say what action will be taken on the complaints. According to the NLRB, accusations of unfair labor practices spark investigations by regional examiners and attorneys. “More than half of all charges are dropped or dismissed. In cases where an investigation concludes that there is probable merit, the majority settles by agreement between the parties. If no resolution can be reached, the regional director files a complaint detailing the alleged violations. So far in 2022, nearly 18,000 complaints have been filed nationwide and more than 5,100 have been resolved.