GLIDE, the Tenderloin-based social justice institution, is being accused of union busting
GLIDE, one of San Francisco’s most prestigious social justice institutions dedicated to helping the homeless and low-income, is being accused of using union busting tactics by multiple former and current employees ahead of union contract negotiations that happened earlier today.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 25: A view of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022. Nearly 2,500 Christmas meals of ham, turkey and all of the fixings were served to the community by the Glide Foundation. (Jan
Two former employees and two current employees told KTVU that GLIDE management has rescinded job promotions and called staff after work hours to discuss unionizing efforts. Others in GLIDE leadership were "verbally abusive to employees who they knew wouldn’t speak up and wouldn’t defend themselves," said Emma Tozer, GLIDE’s former communications and media relations manager.
"There was a lot of that and a lot of intimidation," Tozer said in an interview with KTVU.
GLIDE has a long and storied history in San Francisco starting in the late 1920s. It grew to national prominence in the 1960s when Cecil Williams, then a young African American minister, joined GLIDE and welcomed a "diverse community of hippies, prostitutes, chronic drug users, transgender youth, and other poor and marginalized people of the Tenderloin," into its congregation that was once associated with the United Methodist Church. GLIDE members protested against the Vietnam War and the development of nuclear weapons and have been on the front lines of helping the neediest on the streets of San Francisco.
So for the members of GLIDE who spoke to KTVU, having their unionizing efforts being allegedly stifled by a progressive institution like GLIDE came as a bit of a shock.
One current employee who asked to remain anonymous said the need for a union had been festering for a long time. The main issue in their eyes was the vast divide in pay.
"The discrepancy between, in particular, the frontline staff and the executive leadership is just too great," they told KTVU. "And living in a city like San Francisco, which is like the most expensive city in the country, makes it almost impossible for many frontline staff… to make ends meet."
In October, after securing a "supermajority" of votes, Glide United sent a letter to GLIDE management asking to be voluntarily recognized, forgoing the need for a formal election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.
The original demands from the new union were simple: better pay, better financial transparency and better working conditions that will improve staff retention.
Glide United even had the backing of District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco).
"As a San Francisco Supervisor, I recognize the benefits and protections that unions offer to aid not only the hard-working people of our city, but the entire working environment and clients as well," Preston said in a letter to then-CEO Karen Hanrahan. "Our federal and state laws recognize this as well, and that is why GLIDE employees– like many other employees in a similar position– are entitled to organize a union free from interference or intimidation."
However, GLIDE’s management did not voluntarily recognize the union, so a formal election was held on Nov. 10, 2022, and 83% of GLIDE’s employees voted in favor of the union.
Later that day, GLIDE Leadership Team issued a press release saying they "respect the wishes of our employees and we will bargain in good faith." But, contract negotiations seemed to have stalled and alleged union busting began, according to the workers shared their experiences.
One current office-based employee who asked to remain anonymous said that management told employees that if the union was implemented, and they failed to pay their dues, they would be fired.
"We didn't really know how to act on those types of threats," they told KTVU. "Instead we used it to galvanize support."
Tozer, the former communications manager, was one of the founding members of the Glide United organizing committee, but resigned from her position and left GLIDE on February 24.
"There's always the undercurrent of being undervalued and overworked at GLIDE, especially if you're a frontline staff, but I definitely felt it too in my role," she said. "And so I kind of reached my point, and I left."
On March 15, in a strange turn of events that escalated tensions, an email sent from the Glide United email account from an unknown sender accused GLIDE management of being "disingenuous in their promise to bargain in good faith." It was sent to the Board of Directors and over 20 other people, many of whom were in leadership positions, according to someone with direct knowledge of the email.
"What we are experiencing at Glide in the months after the union election can only be described as organizational gerrymandering," the email says. "Our leadership…purports to erode the morale of our bargaining unit and cultivate a culture of fear through targeted terminations, intentional demotions, delays in promotions, and rescinding job offers to internal hires."
The March 15 letter to the GLIDE Board also cited examples they described as a "sinister trend of leadership" that is "intentionally diluting the bargaining" by rescinding job offers for promotions, contesting employee union eligibility, and promoting union members to positions exempt from union representation.
The current employee who cited pay discrepancies as the reason for unionizing wouldn’t necessarily constitute GLIDE management’s actions as "union busting," but said they were offered a position in a different department which was eventually rescinded.
"It really didn't seem to make a lot of sense except that there were politics at play that changed the direction in how people were being hired," they said. "In particular internally, and I think I was a victim of that."
"There's politics at every organization and just the way it was handled was very unprofessional," they added.
Tozer feels that management has purposefully delayed the contract negotiation process.
"It's these scare tactics, intimidation, and it hurt my personal experience," Tozer said. "When we would bring up our concerns to [management], we were essentially gaslighted and shut down. It was very clear we had public support, we had letters of support from elected officials."
Formal contract negotiations began today between Glide United and GLIDE leadership.
"We are pleased to have started bargaining today, it was a good first day and we look forward to continuing to bargain together in good faith to reach a contract," said Andom Kahsay, a senior organizer with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), the organization representing Glide United.
GLIDE management agrees and supports Kahsay's statement.
"GLIDE supports the rights of our employees to unionize," said Angelo Turner, chief development officer and chief communications/marketing officer in an email to KTVU. "GLIDE management has been working closely with OPEIU Local 29 since last Fall, and OPEIU and GLIDE had mutually agreed to start the bargaining process today, 4/7/23. If these allegations by a former employee were true, there are formal mechanisms by the National Labor Relations Board that the local union could have utilized."
They also take issue with Tozer's allegations.
"It is lamentable that Channel 2 did not give more of an opportunity to talk with GLIDE’s employees and team members about their experiences, rather than one former employee who does not have firsthand knowledge of current GLIDE activities and whose allegations are not based on facts," Turner said.
Tozer said GLIDE’s actions are part of a larger trend across the country of company leaderships failing to recognize union contracts and forcing unnecessary disputes. Workers at REI, a national sporting goods retailer, Starbucks, Trader Joe's and Amazon have all tried unionizing in the past few years and have been met with fierce resistance from the organizations that hold many progressive values. Graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley were also met with resistance in their organizing attempts and went on strike for nearly two months.
Tozer had tough parting words for those in charge at GLIDE.
"You're perpetuating the same systems of inequity and oppression that you say you're fighting against," Tozer said. "You're dishonoring democracy, that's what a union is. It's a democratically elected institution, [and] there was a decisive 83%. You’re continuously undermining the will of the majority."
Read GLIDE management's statement in full:
"GLIDE supports the rights of our employees to unionize. GLIDE management has been working closely with OPEIU Local 29 since last Fall, and OPEIU and GLIDE had mutually agreed to start the bargaining process today, 4/7/23. If these allegations by a former employee were true, there are formal mechanisms by the National Labor Relations Board that the local union could have utilized. We could not agree more with the statement provided to Channel 2 by [Andom] Kahsay, OPEIU International Organizer, 'We are pleased to have started bargaining today, it was a good first day and we look forward to continuing to bargain together in good faith to reach a contract.
"We have worked to ensure our employees have competitive pay and benefits packages. This includes our invaluable front-line staff, as well as our executive team charged with ensuring GLIDE’s success. At a time when tens of thousands of employees are being laid off locally, and nonprofits are facing fundraising constraints due to a volatile economy, we were forced to make painful decisions to eliminate just six full-time positions. GLIDE worked closely with the union to bargain over the effects of the layoffs and reached an amicable resolution. These are not easy decisions, and they were not taken lightly.
"For more than 60 years, GLIDE has provided a place of resilience, hope, and love for our extended community, and our employees. It is lamentable that Channel 2 did not give more of an opportunity to talk with GLIDE’s employees and team members about their experiences, rather than one former employee who does not have firsthand knowledge of current GLIDE activities and whose allegations are not based on facts. We welcome Channel 2 any time. We will continue to pursue our mission to advocate and address the needs of SF's most vulnerable and marginalized individuals and their families. GLIDE will continue to espouse a message of inclusion and unconditional love for all people."
Freddy Brewster is a reporter for KTVU.
Email Freddy at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 513-379-7522.
Follow him on Twitter @freddy_brewster