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National Audubon Society Workers Demand Audubon Bargain in Good Faith, Commit to Union’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Proposals

In rally outside Audubon HQ, workers with The Bird Union-CWA, NYC Comptroller Lander and City Councilmembers De La Rosa and Menin called on nonprofit to bargain a fair contract

Rally comes just weeks after Audubon refused to change its name and sever ties with racist enslaver John James Audubon

New York, N.Y. – National Audubon Society workers and members of The Bird Union, with Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1180, held a rally outside the nonprofit’s headquarters on Wednesday to demand that Audubon bargain in good faith and stand by its renewed commitments towards creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace. Audubon workers, who have been bargaining for over a year to reach a first collective bargaining agreement, were joined at the rally by activists and local elected officials, including NYC City Comptroller Brad Lander and Councilmembers Carmen De La Rose and Julie Menin. Videos and photos from the action can be found here.

Wednesday’s rally comes on the heels of Audubon’s decision to keep the name of John James Audubon, a notorious white supremacist and enslaver. In response, Bird Union members are calling on CEO Dr. Gray and the Audubon Board, including Board Chair Susan Bell, to follow through on their renewed Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (EDIB) commitments by bargaining a fair contract that will improve the lives of its workers and communities of color.

“Following Audubon’s announcement to keep the name of an unabashed racist, Dr. Gray assured staff that the nonprofit would continue to center EDIB initiatives, but actions speak louder than words,” said Shyamlee Patel, a finance associate at Audubon and member of the Bird Union-CWA. “Audubon continues to stall contract negotiations that could immensely improve the lives of the BIPOC workers the organization claims they’re committed to empowering. At the same time, management has slashed our health insurance, pushing exorbitant premiums on its most vulnerable workers, and Audubon is actively withholding financial information that could help our union ensure the millions the nonprofit receives in donations goes towards supporting the staff that carry out their mission. It’s time that Audubon shows it cares about human lives as much as we care about birds – they can do that by listening to their workers and bargaining in good faith.”

The union-represented Audubon workers are demanding an end to the nonprofit’s continued aggressive anti-worker behavior and stalling of contract negotiations. Since negotiations began in 2021, Audubon has only agreed to seven of workers’ proposals, out of a total 29 proposals.

In addition to failing to adequately address the workplace challenges that the workers have consistently been raising, Audubon’s leadership decided to unilaterally cut workers' healthcare benefits amid contract negotiations. In response, CWA filed three Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges on behalf of the workers against the National Audubon Society with the National Labor Relations Board.

“I want to remind Dr. Gray of the cardinal rule: You’ve gotta protect the people who are doing the hard work of your organization,” said New York City Comptroller Brad Lander. “You have people who are working day in and out for the great mission of this organization. They have to be respected in the workplace. You don’t respect your workers by making them bargain for over a year. Audubon needs to recognize that they have an opportunity to build a real partnership with workers and give them the benefits and pay they need to make their work possible.”

To help make Audubon a more fair and inclusive workplace, The Bird Union has brought forth a number of equitable contract proposals that would ensure all Audubon workers, regardless of race or background, feel safe and respected on the job. Audubon management, however, continues to push back on these proposals, including one that would ensure a staff person experiencing bias during a grievance process wouldn’t be overseen by the perceived perpetrator.

“Management’s continued refusal to bargain a fair contract with us sadly shows how little Audubon leadership cares about changing the nonprofit’s historically toxic and blatantly racist culture,” said Soncey Kondrotis, an operations manager at Audubon and member of the Bird Union-CWA. “However, with the proposals that The Bird Union has brought forth, we’re offering Audubon an easy way to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion within the organization and start remedying the harm they’ve caused their workers and communities of color. All Audubon has to do is meet us at the table. We’re hopeful that Dr. Gray will follow through on her commitments, and we’re ready to work with Audubon to realize the promises they’ve made to cultivate a fair, supportive, and equitable workplace.”

This day of action is workers’ latest effort to rebuke the organization’s racist legacy. Earlier this month, Audubon workers officially changed their union name to “The Bird Union” to demonstrate their commitment to antiracism. Audubon chapters across the country have taken similar steps, with the nonprofit’s NYC chapter announcing its name change just last week.

“Today, time’s up for the Audubon Society,” said City Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa. “We stand with CWA and The Bird Union in solidarity because we know that Audubon workers’ work is critical to fight back against the climate crisis. It is important for leadership of Audubon to understand the mission can only go so far as the workers take it. And if Audubon doesn’t do right by the workers, then the mission of the organization will fail. Dignity, fair pay, benefits, the recognition of white supremacy and a racist history is important for the healing of workers, especially after a pandemic. We’re counting on you, Dr. Gray, to do right by these workers and, if not, we’ll be back out here giving you hell.”

“We’re calling on Dr. Gray to do the right thing, come to the bargaining table, and actually deal fairly with these workers who’ve done so much for the organization, our environment, and for the birds,” said CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens. “I know I speak for the entire CWA executive board when I say we are here with you as long as it takes, whatever it takes for you to get justice at your workplace. We will not let up, we will fight with you as long as you need us to, until Dr. Gray and the National Audubon Society does right by its workers. We will do wherever we have to. Audubon Society and Dr. Gray, we are not going away until you do the right thing. Because when we fight, we win!”

“I am proud to be here today with Audubon workers and members of the Bird Union, who have the incredible courage to stand up to Audubon leadership and say 'we deserve better,'” said Gloria Middleton, President of CWA Local 1180. “After a year of tense contract negotiations and pushback from leadership, Audubon workers are calling on Dr. Gray, Susan Bell, and the Board to stop stalling, come to the table, and work with The Bird Union to ensure a better future for all workers at the organization. These workers deserve a voice, support, and protections on the job as they carry out their important mission to care for the birds. We need meaningful change now, and it’s time for Audubon to make sure that happens by meeting workers at the bargaining table to negotiate a fair contract.”


About The Bird Union/CWA:

The Bird Union is the staff union of the National Audubon Society working together to build a better organization for people and birds, in partnership with the Communications Workers of America.

About CWA:

The Communications Workers of America represents working people in telecommunications, customer service, media, airlines, health care, public service and education, manufacturing, tech, and other fields. @cwaunion

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