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SAY Sí staff wins proposed bargaining unit; nonprofit board offers voluntary recognition

SAY Sí staff members speak to parents, allies, and community members inside a small cafeteria.
Josh Peck
A SAY Sí staff member speaks to parents, community members, and other allies about the union effort in December.

The bargaining unit proposed by workers at SAY Sí, the after-school arts nonprofit, was accepted on Monday by a regional labor board, which also set the union election dates for early March.

Despite arguing in front of the regional labor board that the bargaining unit should be cut nearly in half, SAY Sí’s board of directors offered voluntary recognition to the accepted bargaining unit following the ruling.

Workers said they have not yet formally accepted the board of director’s voluntary recognition because they are waiting to speak with their union representative with the United Professional Organizers (UPO). A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) union election will be held on March 8 and March 10 if they do not accept voluntary recognition.

Ashley Perez, the visual arts director at SAY Sí who would have been excluded from the vote if the regional labor board sided with the nonprofit’s board of directors, said she’s certain they would win the election if it comes to that.

“We’re a supermajority, there’s not anybody employed at SAY Sí who is not for the union,” Perez said.

The ruling by Region 16 of the NLRB marked the end to months of debate between workers and the nonprofit board over who should be included in the workplace bargaining unit — the group of workers who are allowed to vote and participate in a union.

The ruling was based on November hearings where representatives for the workers and the nonprofit board testified.

SAY Sí’s board had argued that a dozen workers the staff had proposed be in the unit should be excluded because they had supervisory roles, were confidential workers, or were temporary workers. The labor board rejected each of those arguments.

A flyer from the SAY Si union about why they're unionizing and how supporters can help.
Josh Peck
A flyer shared by the SAY Si workers.

Perez said she and her fellow workers were shocked by the response of their board of directors throughout the unionization effort, which included spending at least $35,000 on law firm Ogletree Deakins.

“I’ll tell you right now, we did not expect for the SAY Si board to prepare by mentioning untrue statements about our work, or inaccurate depictions of the work that we do,” she said. “We seemed to be surprised in every corner of this process.”

In a statement from the board of directors, they said they would not appeal the NLRB decision but would still retain Ogletree Deakins until the matter was resolved.

“We will be 100% accountable to any directives [the NLRB] provide[s],” the statement said. “Ogletree Deakins will continue to support SAY Si as we move through this process.”

The board of directors had earlier come under fire for retaining Ogletree Deakins because workers said the law firm’s history ran counter to the mission and values of SAY Sí.

Following the NLRB ruling, Perez said workers were celebrating. “We all kind of hugged and smiled and did more jumping around and just a little bit of reflecting and being excited,” she said.

Amalia Oritz, the theater arts director at SAY Sí, said despite the offer of voluntary recognition, the board will need to do more to regain workers’ trust.

“We still want to craft a formal response to our board who I believe still needs to claim public responsibility for dragging staff through a lengthy and stressful NLRB hearing, publicly deriding our operations manager for falling behind in her duties (due to the hearing and taking on extra duties from our absence of an [executive director]) and then spending $50,000 on an admin ‘surplus’ at a time that our Operations Manager was requesting help,” Ortiz said. “Relationships need to be repaired.”

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