Free Geek employees vote to join Portland CWA Local 7901

A group of 19 workers at the celebrated local non-profit Free Geek have unionized with Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7901. The Portland group accepts used computers and electronics, recycles or refurbishes them, and donates them to low-income people in exchange for community service.

Begun in 2000, Free Geek prides itself on an unusual form of management, in which all major decisions are made by democratic consensus, by 11 employees who are members of a “collective.” But as the group grew, a sub-caste developed of lower-paid employees who weren’t in the collective. Earlier this year, they revolted, issuing a manifesto this summer — and last month filing a representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In an NLRB-supervised election Nov. 3, the workers voted 12-2 to join CWA.

Although non-collective staff make several dollars an hour less than members of the collective, pay isn’t what drove unionization, said Local 7901 President Madelyn Elder.

“It’s about respect,” Elder said. Workers want more regular workplace practices and a clearer path to advancement. Now, Elder said, they’ll have a chance to negotiate that.

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