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Second Thoughts About Prophets in Favor of Unionizing Nonprofits Featured

Second Thoughts About Prophets in Favor of Unionizing Nonprofits krakenimages

The union between technology and nonprofits is a bond for the betterment of all. But attempts to unionize all nonprofits is an idea that is far from ideal, despite the respective efforts of the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU) and the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU). For technology nonprofits, unionization is neither a guarantee of unity nor a guard against disruption. 

As a supporter of nonprofits and a defender of unions, and as a retired union member too, I applaud the good these institutions do; but I abhor—and have a duty to prevent—acts that would group the smallest technology nonprofits with the largest and wealthiest nonprofits. 

The NPEU and OPEIU know this is a war most nonprofits cannot win and must not fight: that the legal costs alone would be huge while the larger costs—from the loss of goods to the destruction of goodness itself—would be incalculable, that communities would suffer while citizens suffer in silence.

The absence of compromise governs this cause, while the absence of certain facts compromises the legitimacy of this cause. That is to say, what protesters believe technology unions should do is different from what technology unions can do. 

Unions can negotiate wages, or strike for want of better wages, but members armed with poster boards cannot strong-arm their way into a single boardroom. The law does not compel board members to seat union members, for there are no set-asides for labor at the highest levels of employment. That protesters believe otherwise is no surprise.

About wages, benefits, and working conditions, the law is clear: negotiations are mandatory. Anything is irrelevant, for unions have limited and enumerated powers. The work of forming a union is also hard and uncompensated work.

The organizer may not disclose this fact, and the romantic may not want to know this fact, but it takes more than a virtual vote to create an actual union. Likes do not translate into laws or bylaws, because social media is not a substitute for mediation. Clicks do not, in other words, count. What does count is that which the romantic fails to take into account: the amount of time (60-80 hours per month) necessary to sustain a union.

The romantic may insist that every vote counts, regardless of volition. But a worker whose vote is obligatory rather than voluntary is a worker without the right to vote. If a worker is one of 20 employees, if he is the only one whose position is unknown, he loses in one of two ways. Either he votes to avoid reprisals, or his vote elicits reprisals, because what is private in theory is not secret in practice. The sacredness of the secret ballot is, in this scenario, a contrivance. That fear corrupts this process is also no secret.

If cynics treat idealists as marks, the cost will be social insolvency. If knaves convince naïfs to organize, the cost will be total: nothing for the least among us, and everything for those with nothing to lose; subsuming people and nonprofits for a cause without end; ending years of work and decades of good for a single good, intimidation.


Technology nonprofits have a right to be firm in the defense of rights. They have no right to surrender, for they will have no rights if they surrender. Rightness is on their side, as now is the time for all nonprofits to choose sides.

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