Code for America’s union negotiations break down
Contract negotiations between union leaders and senior management at Code for America have broken down in recent weeks, StateScoop and FedScoop have learned.
The two sides, which are seeking to finalize a collective bargaining agreement covering working conditions for staff, have not met for talks since April 6, union representatives said.
While agreements over paid time off and the union’s proposal for a four-day work week are outstanding, the biggest sticking point in negotiations appears to center on which Code for America employees will be part of the union once a contract is ratified.
In a blog post published Tuesday, Code for America said it is seeking clarification from the National Labor Relations Board on which employees are union-eligible.
The organization said it is committed to continuing negotiations in good faith and is “now evaluating which of the remaining proposals we can continue to negotiate in the absence of clarity on unit definition.”
“Our last meeting was April 6, which lasted about 15 to 20 minutes,” Tanya Grinblat, Code for America’s associate director for individual giving and a member of the union’s bargaining committee, said in an interview. “We were expecting their counter-proposals, but instead they told us they can no longer meet to bargain until we have gone through the unit clarification process with the NLRB. We don’t know how much time that will take.”
Code for America’s attorneys reportedly told Grinblat and her fellow negotiators that a resolution from the NLRB could as long as a year. In the blog post, Code for America claimed to be eager for “clarity” on who should be in the union. But union members say the civic-tech nonprofit is legally obligated to continue the bargaining, even as the union’s final composition remains fluid.
Speaking on background, a senior Code for America official said management is still optimistic that an agreement can be reached, and reiterated that the organization is “proud” to be one of the first civic-tech organizations to voluntarily recognize a union — echoing a sentiment laid out in Tuesday’s blog post.
While Code for America is waiting for answers from the NLRB on who should be part of the union, the official denied that management has ended negotiations and is working to get back to the negotiating table quickly.
“We are looking to see what proposals we can continue to negotiate without the unit definition, and we’re hoping to get back to the negotiations as soon as next week,” the person said.
Code for America’s payroll has grown significantly since the organization granted voluntary recognition to the staff union in 2021. Most of the growth has come since last April, when Code for America landed a $100 million grant to build out a social-safety benefits operation. Many employees have multidisciplinary roles and responsibilities that have made it difficult to define their union eligibility, the Code for America official said.
Code for America’s blog post Tuesday stated that that there are “approximately 50 positions — a significant portion of our entire organization — that need clarification on whether they should be in or out of the union.” This clarification is “critical” as it “affects several proposals that will be a part of the collective bargaining agreement and will have implications for how Code for America operates once a collective bargaining agreement has been reached,” the organization said.
CfA Workers United, which is represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union, published its own statement Tuesday, accusing Code for America’s management team of unilaterally deciding to “shut down bargaining indefinitely until unit clarification is completed by the NLRB.” It also accused Code for America of bargaining in bad faith and retaliation, which the senior official denied.
“We vehemently disagree with those allegations,” the Code for America official said.
The union has so far filed three complaints against Code for America with the NLRB this year and is waiting to hear back on a petition for unit clarification, which will decide definitively which employees are union-eligible.
Code for America and representatives of the union began negotiations in spring 2022, but progress stalled last summer amid disagreements over who should be part of the union’s bargaining committee, as well as a lack of clarity over which employees are union-eligible.
Last fall, Code for America appointed the law firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith to lead negotiations with the union. (The nonprofit’s dropped its original counsel, Jackson Lewis, in late 2021 amid social-media backlash over that firm’s track record of union-busting tactics.) But negotiations ran aground last October when the sides failed to agree on weightier proposals.
In February, Code for America management presented a complete bargaining agreement to the union, but the union rejected it and offered counterproposals. The two parties met on a weekly basis to discuss these proposals until April 6, but have not talked since.
“We really thought about a month ago that we were close to a signed agreement, we were starting to narrow down the issues,” said Grinblat, the union negotiator. “Internally, it’s taking a toll, the lack of progress is hard on morale.”
“We just want to get back to the bargaining table, that’s where the union has a voice and they’ve taken that space away from us,” she said.