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SAY Sí workers prepare for contract negotiations after officially unionizing

A group of SAY Si workers and supporters stand together for a picture after a press conference held by SAY Si workers to give an update on their union efforts.
Josh Peck
SAY Si workers and supporters stand together for photos after the press conference on Saturday.

Workers at the after-school arts nonprofit SAY Sí are asking for community support in preparation for negotiations over their first collective bargaining agreement. Upcoming negotiations follow months of contentious debate over the bargaining unit’s size that eventually led to the nonprofit board’s decision to offer the workers’ proposed bargaining unit voluntary recognition.

SAY Sí workers, who are now unionized with the United Professional Organizers, held a press conference on Saturday at the headquarters of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, an educators’ union for San Antonio Independent School District workers.

Jackson Lundquist, a SAY Sí alumni and staff member, laid out the broad strokes of what workers are seeking in a new contract.

“Ultimately what we would like is to see more transparency and control of staff in the organization,” Lundquist said. “We would like to see better pay, we would like a pipeline for part-timers to become full-timers, which is something that we have struggled with a lot.”

Lundquist added that workers were also requesting a formal apology from the board of directors over what they say has been stressful several months and the hiring of attorneys from Ogletree Deakins, a law firm that assists employers with union avoidance tactics and that workers say has ties to voter suppression efforts.

TPR reported in December that the board spent $35,000 on the firm, the first time the board’s union-related spending was made public. Since then, Lundquist said workers found out the board spent at least $50,000 on Ogletree Deakins’ services.

After the board offered voluntary recognition to the NLRB-approved bargaining unit at the end of February, a spokesperson for the board said they planned to continue retaining Ogletree Deakins throughout the bargaining process. But now the board is considering other law firms, which workers have consistently asked them to do, according to reporting from Axios.

SAY Sí workers invited the community to support them by signing up for their newsletter and following them on Instagram, where they will be putting out requests for letter-writing or other actions supporters can take during the negotiation process.

Lundquist invited several pro-labor allies to speak during the Saturday press conference, including District 5 Councilmember Teri Castillo, former AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson, and MOVE Texas Advocacy Director Alex Birnel.

District 5 Councilmember Teri Castillo speaks at a podium to SAY Si workers and supporters.
Josh Peck
Texas Public Radio
District 5 Councilmember Teri Castillo speaks to SAY Si workers and supporters at the Saturday press conference.

Castillo, who has been outspoken in her support of union efforts among the SAY Sí and Starbucks workers in San Antonio, congratulated the workers on their formal union recognition.

“That’s what winning union recognition is about, is ensuring that we’re treated with dignity and respect, and have access to the basic benefits that everyone here deserves,” Castillo said.

She added that her older brother went down a positive path thanks to his involvement with SAY Sí as a child, despite less “productive” paths available to kids like him in their West Side community.

Chavez-Thompson told the union members in the room that their job was to fight back against employers’ attempts to devalue them.

“[The labor movement] is about fighting back. Dignity, respect, better working conditions, better wages, good benefits, and much much more,” she said. “It’s so important because if they don’t value you, then they don’t value your work. And for me, you are more valuable than they are.”

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