The National Labor Relations Board will begin hearings Thursday to determine which Code for America employees are eligible to join the civic tech organization’s fledgling union.
Negotiations between Code for America and the union, CfA Workers United, broke down last month over the issue, with managers saying at the time that they wanted more clarification on which workers would be union-eligible, before moving on to big-ticket financial matters like compensation and working hours.
A letter from the union, also published last month, contended that management had a legal obligation to continue bargaining regardless of the membership issue.
Negotiations resumed last week with a two-hour meeting, yielding a few more tentative agreements between the union and Code for America. Ten tentative agreements have now been reached, covering issues such as union dues, grievance and arbitration procedures, workplace safety and discipline, new member orientation, performance improvement guidance and a commitment by managers to not intrusively monitor staff activity.
But the two sides remain split over union eligibility, leaving dozens of potential members hanging in the balance.
Code for America voluntarily agreed to recognize the union in October 2021, covering all eligible full and part-time employees. Contractors, interns, supervisors and staff with managerial duties are not eligible. At the time, Code for America CEO Amanda Renteria said the organization granted that recognition “because of our strong commitment to delivering on our mission and staying true to our values.”
Since then, though, CfA Workers United has accused the nonprofit of trying to shrink the union’s eventual membership. According to a May 5 blog post from Code for America management, there is “broad agreement” that out of more than 200 employees, roughly 80 positions should be included in the bargaining unit.
But CfA Workers United also wants to include another 50 workers in positions that Code for America argued earlier this month “don’t fit neatly” into union definitions. Additionally, the union’s lawyers wrote to the NLRB last week that since the October 2021 recognition, Code for America has slotted new hires into “brand new classifications” that exclude those employees from the bargaining unit.
“While we had hoped to resolve this without going to the NLRB, CfA Workers United is confident that precedent is on our side,” Matthew Bernius, a principal qualitative researcher at Code for America and a member of the union’s bargaining committee, said Wednesday. “We fully expect the NLRB will find that a number of positions have, based on their job duties, been improperly excluded. Most importantly, we believe that getting our day in front of the NLRB will help get everyone back to the bargaining table and onto discussing key economic issues like paid time off, compensation, and different work week structures.”
CfA Workers United has also filed several complaints against Code for America alleging the organization of negotiating in bad faith, which Code for America management has publicly denied.
An NLRB hearing notice filed May 2 suggested that by clarifying the bargaining-unit eligibility issue, Code for America and the union would likely get closer to resolving the bad-faith bargaining charges.
Code for America’s May 5 blog stated the organization remains committed to the negotiating process and believes there is a “clear roadmap for making progress on the outstanding issues in a way that will lead to a collective bargaining agreement that works for our organization, our team members, and could serve as a model for other organizations that go through this process down the road.”
The NLRB hearings to determine the union eligibility of Code for America staff are scheduled for Thursday and Friday over Zoom and could continue into the coming weeks. Board interviews with employees about their duties were scheduled to begin Tuesday, but were pushed back to avoid conflicting with Code for America’s annual summit, which took place this week in Washington.
No further negotiations between Code for America and CfA Workers United are scheduled, pending the outcome of the NLRB hearings.