Union effort falls short at United Way in Portland

United Way of the Columbia-Willamette has long worked with local labor unions in charitable fundraising campaigns. It also helps to fund union-sponsored Labor’s Community Service Agency, which assists union households when they fall on hard times. It’s even had labor officials on its board: Former union leader and state legislator Diane Rosenbaum is a current board member, and Bob Tackett, head of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, is a former board member.

But in January, an effort to unionize among a group of 32 fundraising campaign staffers fell short. The tally was 12 in favor of joining Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7901, and 14 opposed in a Jan. 8 vote supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.

United Way of the Columbia-Willamette CEO Keith Thomajan took a position of neutrality on whether employees should unionize, and didn’t campaign against it.

Local 7901 President Celeste Jones attributed the loss to the fact that a handful of union supporters were out of town during the vote, and that some other workers had opposed the idea of unionizing and campaigned against it. Jones said it’s possible union supporters will make another attempt in a year.

United Way does for the most part treat its employees well, Jones said, but workers who wanted a union had chafed after years of no raises — and some have had to endure on-and-off employment as temporary fundraisers hired during fundraising drives.

The core of CWA Local 7901’s membership is in telephone companies like AT&T and CenturyLink, but the local also represents workers at a handful of nonprofits. CWA also represents some United Way workers in other states.

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