Negotiating our first contract

An opportunity to recommit to ourselves and a strong future

May 20, 2022 – We’re here today to move forward with a project decades in the making: negotiating a fair and open contract between the Public Interest Network and its staff. But before we dive into the details of proposals and the weeds of legalese, we should start by taking a step back to remember what we are setting out to do.

The task before us is not simply bargaining a contract. In fact, if that’s the only outcome of this process, then we will have failed each other and we will have failed our organization’s members.

We have a chance—as representatives of The Public Interest Network management and staff alike—to collectively imagine the future of our organization. A chance for longtime state directors and first-year program associates and everyone in between to come together, put their best foot forward, and renew our commitment to each other and to the movement.

Of course, there will be things that we will disagree on. Such is the nature of collaborating, of consensus-building, of organizing. But as many blog posts and intranet comments have reminded us, we shouldn’t let our disagreements make us lose sight of the things we agree on, and that’s where we should start.

For example, we all can agree that now, more than ever, the public needs a vibrant and strong advocate. From our changing climate to the polarization of politics, society faces problems urgent and profound. Our organization’s history and strategic insight, as you well know, uniquely position The Public Interest Network to play a key role in moving forward real solutions. Let us rise to the challenge of the moment, by becoming the best we can be.

Another thing we all share is pride in our organization’s dedication to being a training pipeline for the movement (perhaps the only good pipeline). And a great many of us share a frustration that this pipeline all too often pushes people right along out of the organization.

When our union members—TPIN staff—surveyed hundreds of alumni, we heard the same stories time and again. Alumni were grateful for the development and skills. Many who have gone on to great careers elsewhere said they wanted to stay here, but simply couldn't afford to, or left because they felt unheard by TPIN management.

Everyone—from first-year organizers to their staff directors on up the line—is impacted by the challenges of recruitment and retention. Staff directors across the network are exhausted from the effort and time they pour into promising organizers who leave midway through a campaign. We, similarly, don’t want to have to make these hard decisions. To paraphrase one of our favorite sayings around here, we have ideas for more good campaigns than we could possibly staff, and more staff turnover than we should tolerate.

So where do we go from here?

We, the staff, envision a Public Interest Network where we can advance climate progress by day and know we have a secure place to sleep at night. We envision a Public Interest Network where we can protect consumers and pay our medical bills. We envision a Public Interest Network where we don't have to choose between making a difference and making ends meet.

What’s more, we’re committed to ensuring The Public Interest Network lives up to the righteous goal codified on its own site: recruiting “all people in our organization and projects – as staff, members, or active participants.” It’s time to remove the structural barriers that block so many talented would-be-staff from joining. Rather than dismiss and disparage, we should meet so many of our partners and the public where they’re at by acknowledging and welcoming the ever-growing Environmental Justice movement.

As we move forward with this historic partnership, there should be no doubt that staff across The Public Interest Network, our union members, have taken this step because we believe in all the good work that the Network has done. We’re proud to be part of a 50-year history of social change and we want the best possible future for this organization. Like you, we believe in the core values like transpartisnship and pragmatism. But let us be clear: we won’t let blind adherence to well-intentioned principles hold theorganization back.

Public Interest Network staff organized ourselves into this union, person by person, by using the very skills we learned in Social Change 100. Bring people together around shared values. Present solutions, not just problems. Do what it takes to achieve a shared vision. Through this hard work, The Public Interest Union achieved voluntary recognition with the support of upwards of 80% of eligible staff.

We hope that you will also remember these important lessons as we all meet at the table to chart the brightest course for our shared future.