A year after workers at the National Audubon Society voted to unionize, the union representing them has filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over disputes involving wages and health care benefits.
The first complaint, known as an Unfair Labor Practice charge, from the Communications Workers of America claims that since early May, Audubon management “has refused to bargain over the wages of bargaining-unit employees, including minimum salaries.”
The second complaint asserts that Audubon violated the National Labor Relations Act “by unilaterally changing terms and conditions of employment regarding health care benefits to undermine the Union’s role as exclusive representative of the bargaining unit.”
The complaint about health care benefits stems from a change the nonprofit made to employees’ benefits in November.
Workers say the new plan amounts to a 50 percent increase in costs for employees. A spokesperson for the union says: “The plan with the most affordable premiums last year had a $2,000 deductible and a $4,000 out-of-pocket maximum. Under the new plan, the deductible is $3,000 and the out-of-pocket max is $6,000 for the same premiums.”
Diana Wilson, a union member who works as a communication associate at Audubon Connecticut and New York, says management began to negotiate with the union about a new health care plan but “didn’t really allow our bargaining committee to be able to come up with a counter proposal” before announcing changes to the plan.
In a statement, JJ Blitstein, Audubon’s director of labor relations, said: “Facing significantly rising costs, Audubon negotiated with our insurance carrier for a 2023 plan with a gross cost increase of just over 2%. Audubon continues to cover 83% of premiums for staff, has a progressive pay structure where higher earners pay more for the same plans, and is providing the same network of doctors to not disrupt care.
“Audubon complied with the NLRA at all times, and we continue to be committed to bargain openly and in good faith on all issues.”
Maxine Griffin Somerville, the organization’s chief people and culture officer, adds: “As insurance premiums are skyrocketing, we care deeply about our Audubon staff and are continuing to provide comprehensive and high-quality benefits.”
Wilson says that besides the specific complaints about pay 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’re asking again that they’ve bargained in good faith. We’re asking that Audubon come to the bargaining table looking to collaborate with us, looking to work with us, looking to create an organization where the employees are able to be supported and feel supported that will allow us to continue to do the essential work that we do that people support Audubon for: Things like conservation and community programs, the science work we do, the journalistic work we do. All of that stuff can’t exist and can’t happen, and certainly can’t happen at the quality that we’re able to put it out at now without a body of workers that feel and are supported by Audubon management.”
It’s difficult to say what comes next with the complaints. According to the NLRB, Unfair Labor Practice charges prompt investigations by regional field examiners and attorneys. “More than half of all charges are withdrawn or dismissed. In cases where an investigation finds probable merit, the majority settle by agreements between the parties. If no settlement can be reached, the Regional Director issues 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 settled.