SCHENECTADY — Employees at Northeast Parent and Child Society have decided to unionize.
The vote Wednesday was the culmination of about eight months of organizing efforts at the organization, which is headquartered in Schenectady. It will result in the first-ever union within the Northern Rivers Family of Services, a major nonprofit human services organization operating across most of upstate New York.
An organizer at Northeast said the effort was driven by the desire to improve working conditions for the 88 full- and part-time employees who will become a bargaining unit of the Civil Service Employees Association.
The vote was roughly 2-1 in favor of representation, CSEA said. The results go now to the National Labor Relations Board. Once NLRB certifies it, CSEA said, the union will ask Northeast to begin negotiations immediately.
Asked for comment, William Gettman, CEO of Northern Rivers, said via email:
“Northern Rivers Family of Services is and has always been committed to supporting our incredible workforce to fulfill our missions. We respect the rights of our employees to participate in the labor process, and will continue to work with them as the results of the election are reviewed as per the standards and practices established by the National Labor Relations Board.”
Northern Rivers is the parent organization of Parsons Child & Family Center, Unlimited Potential and Northeastern Parent and Child Services. Together they provide more than 60 programs and services to children and families that encompass behavioral health, care management, clinical support, residential and foster care, and special education.
They are the descendants of organizations formed in 1829, 1888 and 1979 in Albany, Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, respectively. Today they serve 18,000 people in 41 counties with 1,400 full-time, part-time and per-diem employees.
Nonprofits for years have been short on cash and employees, in part because there is a tight labor market and they can’t offer as much compensation as for-profit employers.
Northern Rivers didn’t say whether having a union represent some of its employees might change that.
“We will continue to ensure the health, safety, dignity, and success of the youth in our care; to recruit and retain top-quality employees; and work to meet the unique workforce challenges the nonprofit sector faces to meet the needs of our communities,” Gettman said.
Geneva Grice, a counselor at Northeast who helped build her co-workers’ support for unionization, said the hope is that representation will increase wages and thereby improve recruitment and retention.
Short staffing creates safety risks, she said, without providing specific examples.
“We wanted safety for the children there and safety for the staff there at the facility there and some opportunity to have a say in things,” she said Thursday.
Grice said the organizing effort was likely slowed by the fact that there were no other unions at Northeast or elsewhere within Northern Rivers.
“There was some reluctance and there were times that we had to explain things to people because having a union was very new to them,” she said.
Grice said the unionization vote also would advance the issues of fairness, equity and inclusion, and said she hoped to see more people of color in administrative roles.
CSEA called Wednesday’s vote another in a recent series of victories for organized labor in America, higher-profile national votes as employers such as Amazon and Starbucks coming simultaneously with smaller regional operations such as Northern Rivers.