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Audubon workers in Nebraska vote to join union

Audubon workers in Nebraska vote to join union

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Listen to the predawn sounds of the sandhill cranes roosting on the Platte River in Nebraska. First, a murmur. Then wild chatter. And finally, takeoff!

National Audubon Society employees in Nebraska have overwhelmingly voted to unionize.

Eleven Audubon workers in the state are now eligible to join the Audubon for All Union, which is partnering with the Communications Workers of America, according to a press release issued Wednesday. Those workers voted 8-1 to join the union.

The release stated that the vote caps workers’ yearlong effort to secure stronger health care benefits, job security and a voice at the table for all workers.

The National Audubon Society is a bird and habitat conservation organization.

Nebraska workers’ decision to join the union was part of a sweep that included Audubon workers in the North Carolina, Mid-Atlantic, California, Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regional offices, according to the press release. Workers located in Arizona, New Mexico, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Alaska and Washington plan to vote whether to join the union by the end of the week. In total, those areas account for more than 120 employees.

The press release said employees began organizing after facing two rounds of layoffs last year and having the cost of their health care increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The release said one round of layoffs occurred on Earth Day (April 22, 2020). The second round occurred in June 2020.

National Audubon Society spokeswoman Diana Lee said the layoffs were due to the impacts of the pandemic.

The release also cited reporting from the news outlet Politico, which reported that the National Audubon Society, with about 600,000 members, allegedly maintained a culture of retaliation, fear and antagonism toward women and people of color.

The organization also has grappled with the fact that its namesake, John James Audubon, was a slaveholder and staunch opponent of abolition, the Associated Press reported in July.

“We have been working towards this day for over a year, going up against mass layoffs, anti-union rhetoric and leadership transitions. But we remained strong because we know a union is essential to improving Audubon’s culture and furthering our mission to protect the birds,” said Cacey Wilken, a conservation field technician at Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center in Denton, Nebraska, in the press release.

In a statement, Audubon CEO Elizabeth Gray said the national organization respects employees’ decision to unionize.

“We respect the decision by our colleagues to form a union and we are devoted to ensuring our workplace is one where all employees are respected, valued, and empowered,” Gray said. “We will always strive to be an ‘Audubon for All.’ Stepping into Audubon’s permanent CEO role as of last month, I look forward to working together with the unions to advance our organization’s mission.”

Audubon is the latest in a number of environmental groups whose workers have formed unions, according to the release. Others include the Center for Biological Diversity, Sunrise Movement, Sierra Club, and Greenpeace.


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