The union for civic tech nonprofit Code for America is celebrating the tentative severance agreement it reached with the company’s management this week in the wake of layoffs that reduced staff by nearly 20%.
The unexpected nature of the layoffs brought the union and management together to negotiate a new severance agreement after the union claimed Code for America did not honor the original layoff agreement, which stipulated 30 days’ notice prior to staff reductions. Some of those laid off have said they were given less than an hour’s notice that they were losing their jobs.
The company announced the elimination of 35 staff positions, along with major strategy changes, last month amid ongoing contract negotiations with CfA Workers United, the group’s union. Two of the union’s five person bargaining team lost their jobs in the layoffs.
“This has been a very, very long two-and-a-half weeks for us and honestly, even 24 hours before the town hall, we were not sure what the tone of this town hall was going to be,” Matt Bernius, a member of the union’s bargaining team and a qualitative researcher with Code for America, said during an public announcement Tuesday evening. “I’m really excited to announce that this is going to be a little bit of a celebration in that we can all take a collective breath.”
The union reached a tentative agreement with management for layoffs earlier this summer, which included a 30-day notice for staff reductions, “unless such a notice period is not reasonably practicable.”
The agreement also stipulated that laid off employees would receive a minimum of one month’s severance pay and that if that person elects for COBRA insurance, a federal safety-net program, Code for America would reimburse the employee for its portion of the coverage for three months.
After the layoffs, the two parties went back to the bargaining table and reached a new agreement on severance this week that more closely resembles the original terms. It includes two months of severance and extends to employees whose union membership is still yet to be determined by the National Labor Relations Board.
“We see that as a huge, huge win, we’re very excited about that,” Lynley Closson, a Code for America program manager, said during Tuesday’s announcement.
In response to the layoffs, CfA Workers United established a solidarity fund for its laid off union and non-union colleagues that raised $20,000 in four days. Donations are still being accepted. Additionally, it’s offering job search support, such as resume reviews and mock interviews, and created a worker support list to help connect them to new positions and other available resources.
“There’s still very important work that needs to be done to ensure that we have protection against future events like this, which — spoiler alert — means keeping up the pressure as we close in on hopefully reaching a complete tentative agreement on our first contract with Code for America,” Bernius said.
Since the layoffs, the number of employees who participate in bargaining conversations jumped from the usual 35 to more than 70 people in the meetings, the union representatives said.
Though it’s made some gains during negotiations, the union is still pressing for medical and family leave, compensation and wage increases, paid time off, professional development and a four-day work week, Closson said.