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Opinion: SEACC responds to union issues

However the union question is resolved, we take our responsibilities to our employees very seriously

  • By Natalie Watson
  • Friday, December 30, 2022 2:12pm
  • Opinion

This week a disgruntled former SEACC employee published a My Turn complaining about his experience working at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, and tried to tie that to a pending union organizing request at our organization. We appreciate the opportunity to respond, to set the record straight and correct erroneous or misleading statements in that piece.

SEACC is a small, nonprofit conservation group that has been working to protect the environment and people of Southeast Alaska for 52 years. We currently have 11 employees located in and around Southeast Alaska. Over the years, we have employed hundreds of people and over a dozen executive directors. In addition, hundreds if not thousands of members of the public have volunteered their time and leant their voice to help carry out our mission. We also have thousands of individual supporters, the vast majority of which are located here in our region. We are proud of our record of success, the result of a very broad base of support and strong, accurate, well-considered positions.

A few weeks ago, four of our current employees filed a petition to the National Labor Relations Board to form a union. SEACC hired experienced legal counsel from the nation’s largest employment law firm to help us understand our responsibilities under this process, but not, as some have erroneously claimed, to oppose the process. We support the legal right of any employee to seek union representation and want to make sure all our qualified employees have the ability to participate in the process. We will stand by the results.

However the union question is resolved, we take our responsibilities to our employees very seriously.

In the last several years we have increased and standardized staff compensation so that our staff earn at least 95% of the comparable average nonprofit salary, dramatically improved our benefits package, added more than a week of additional time off and provided an annual cost of living adjustment to combat the effect of inflation on compensation. We have also encouraged use of mental health days and the full utilization of all paid time off, instituted flex and remote work, improved our hiring and annual review processes (including with consideration to Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion), and added additional support for both onboarding of new staff and exit interviews for departing staff.

In addition, we have updated the staff office environment and provided funding to remote staff to help cover the cost of supplying their own office spaces. Finally, last year we adopted a paid, three-month sabbatical for employees who have served five years of full-time employment. Two of our staff have already enjoyed this benefit.

The question of whether SEACC employees should unionize should not be driven by the experiences of a single former employee, or even a subset of any given staff. Rather, all qualified staff deserve an opportunity to participate in the provided National Labor Relations Board process.

The issues raised by the former employee are almost all unrelated to the question of union representation. Instead they are largely personal complaints, and many of them support our assertion that SEACC is now more closely and effectively managed than it was before our current director arrived. For example, the concern that all his ideas weren’t adopted as company policy is common to every workplace and employee. Someone has to make the hard decisions at every organization, and not all staff will agree with all decisions. Likewise, the notion that communication with the board of directors should be done in coordination with the executive director is standard best practice in organizations of our size. And finally, while we feel regret that he may not have felt valued, that was a personal experience based on his individual interactions with the organization, and not one that was brought up appropriately through the existing internal channels that we have in place to help mitigate and address staff concerns.

Whether the SEACC staff ultimately votes to unionize or not, we will continue to value and take care of our staff to the best of our ability, and to continue our five-decade mission to protect and sustain the wonderful environment and communities of our region. Southeast Alaska deserves nothing less.

We encourage anyone with questions or comments to reach out to our team through info@seacc.org.

• Natalie Watson is board chair for the SEACC Board of Directors. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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