Workers at San Antonio arts nonprofit SAY Sí file to seek union representation

Staffers at the youth-development organization say they want a greater voice in charting its future.

click to enlarge Participants in one of SAY Sí's programs create art. - Facebook / SAY Sí
Facebook / SAY Sí
Participants in one of SAY Sí's programs create art.
Workers at San Antonio arts and youth-development nonprofit SAY Sí have formally petitioned to seek union representation, according to an Oct. 4 filing with the National Labor Relations Board.

SAY Sí employees are filing to join the Austin-based United Professional Organizers, a labor union representing campaign workers and organizers, according to the document.

Workers at SAY Sí said they made the filing after the nonprofit's board refused to recognize their interest in organizing. A majority of SAY Sí's 29 workers requested that recognition on Sept. 19 but were refused days later, according to Alex Ramirez, a media arts studio teaching artist at SAY Sí.

“With the board’s refusal to voluntarily recognize us, this is really a formality — we have the majority of staff on board," Ramirez said. "It genuinely feels like a stalling tactic.”

Ramirez and other staffers said they're organizing to have a greater voice in charting SAY Sí's future. Last year, the nonprofit moved into a new building to accommodate growth, but some staffers said they feel like they’re in the dark about what lies ahead.

“SAY Si staff has been talking for years about unionizing,” Visual Arts Director Ashley Perez said. “But it was the return from [pandemic] lockdown that inspired us.”

Under federal law, employees or a union may file a petition for a representation election after collecting signatures from at least 30% of workers who would be served by the labor organization. Elections move forward if an employer refuses to voluntarily recognize a union after a majority of workers sign authorization cards.

In an emailed statement, SAY Sí said it supports its staff's right to organize — even if it didn’t recognize the earlier attempt to seek representation.

“We have decided to proceed to a secret ballot election governed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in order to give this effort its full democratic process,” the statement reads. “We respect the voting rights of every eligible employee and want to ensure all affected have the opportunity to exercise their rights. The SAY Si Board intends to support the NLRB’s decisions and will be 100% accountable to any directives they provide. And, we will honor the outcome of the election as determined by our staff.”

Separately, in an Oct. 3 blog post on SAY Sí's website, Board President Jason Moran addressed staff’s organizing efforts.

“We understand some may be disappointed in our decision not to recognize the union based on union authorization cards alone, but we firmly believe in the principle of allowing our staff to participate in a secret ballot election,” Moran wrote.

Ogletree Denkins, one of the nation’s largest labor and employment law firms, is listed as SAY Sí’s legal representation in its NLRB filings. Officials with the firm's Austin and San Antonio offices were unable for comment at press time.

Jacob Aronowitz of UPO's business committee said he’s confident SAY Sí workers will vote to be represented by his union.

“It’s the opportunity to collaborate with their employers on an equal footing," he said. “There’s bigger structural problems fueling it [unionization] that are making it harder for working people to keep up.”

A Notice of Representation Hearing will take place at 9 a.m. Wednesday, October 26 by videoconference if workers and management don't voluntarily agree to an election, according to letter to UPO’s Aronowitz from Timothy L. Watson, the NLRB's Region 16 director.

Even so, staffer Ramirez said he wishes workers didn’t have to go through the NLRB process and that management had initially recognized workers’ efforts.

“The fact that we have to go through this really hurts. The fact that they’ve hired a PR firm and lawyers shows they don’t support us,” he added.

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