Friday, October 07, 2022

Foundation embraces organized labor with $20 million plan

Following union victories at Amazon and Starbucks, a group of major progressive grantmakers are seeking to put together a total of $20 million in alliance with organized labor to raise money for organizing and advocating for campaigns in the South.

A controversial fight to unionize an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., provided much of the impetus to create the new fund, says Jennifer Epps, 10-year-old executive director of labor innovation for the 21st Century Fund (LIFT). Huh. The philanthropy-labor collaboration that will manage the effort.

“If people in Alabama said they were going to stand up and fight for what they believe in and what they deserve, then philanthropy and other organizations that are working to help improve people’s lives would Why won’t you be with them?” she says. “It’s an opportunity to put our resources where our mouth is.”

The fund, the Southern Workers Opportunity Fund, has secured a total of $14 million in commitments from foundations that have contributed to LIFT during its 10-year history, including the Ford and Kellogg Foundations. The fund also includes contributions from AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, The Babcock, Surdana, Tara Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Decisions by a steering committee of foundation and union leaders on which nonprofits will receive funding.

The support received by the Southern Workers Opportunity Fund reflects a growing interest among foundations in supporting workers’ rights more broadly. The fact that philanthropists and unions are working together on the fund and its targeting of the South, an area that has long been inaccessible to organizing, reflects a change in focus for the foundation, which has largely focused on organized labor. Working with and supporting Southern workers was lost. Apps say.

The renewed interest in supporting workers’ campaigns has also drawn criticism from opponents of unionization, who say that such efforts run away from the spirit of laws barring charitable donations from politics.

If the fund raises as much as it thinks, it would significantly increase LIFT’s grant budget, which amounts to about $2 million annually. Grants will be given in the fall to labor groups with an emphasis on racial, gender and economic justice.

The pandemic raised awareness of the hardships faced by low-wage workers, Epps says, adding that it is an ideal time to focus on policy benefits for workers and organizing win-wins. As more manufacturer and warehouse companies have been located in the South over the past decade, in large part due to “right to work laws” that make it harder for workers to settle, workers such as Apps, which came in past LIFT funds . Following the collapse of a career as a union leader, the need to strengthen workers’ campaigns has become more important.

EPS and others involved in the fund know that the union’s efforts face challenges in the South. One of their major short-term goals is to support small, successful projects that will attract more philanthropy, particularly regional donors, to the effort.

Grants from the Southern Workers Opportunity Fund will be given to nonprofits that work to support worker centers, which are community organizations that support low-wage workers who are not union represented. Support will be given to groups that emphasize community-benefit agreements, which hold companies responsible for creating a certain number of local jobs, with certain pay levels and benefits, when they open a facility in a city.

But ultimately, Epps says, successfully negotiating a contract with employers is the key to growing the labor force.

“Collective bargaining agreements are the gold standard,” she says.

Anti-union critics see the combination of union and foundation dollars as something more nefarious: using philanthropic funds earmarked for philanthropy to tilt political debate in line with progressive objectives. The grants from the Fund will not go directly to the unions organizing the workplaces. But the fact that they are going to be formed in consultation with unions legally falls into a gray area, says Richard Epstein, a law professor at New York University School of Law.

“It’s not charitable work,” he says. “It’s political advocacy.”

Epstein did not know the details of the Lyft Fund’s commitment. But he said the foundation would “fine” grants to support political work being technically non-political, even if they were designed to achieve a political end.

Ford Foundation senior program officer Jose Garcia says Grant is not trying to influence politics.

“We’re all looking for workers’ benefits,” he says. “It’s not political. We see poverty. We see people can’t put food on the table. It’s not a political issue, it’s a human rights issue.”

Foundations and charities focus on workers’ rights, and union organizing in particular, very different from Amy Dean’s experience as AFL-CIO leader in Silicon Valley in the 1990s. If the foundation gave grants related to organized labor, she says, it was often directed at eliminating corruption in particular places.

“I was told, ‘Forget about them. You’ll never raise money for the labor movement,'” recalls Dean, who is now a consultant. “The philanthropy’s association with labor was either hatred or dualism, best. Philanthropy was always skeptical – the labor movement seemed too large, powerful and influential.”

Dean says that foundations are beginning to believe that the change they want to see will come only when workers have a more opinionated workplace.

It’s a lesson in the #MeToo movement, the wave of protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and union victories in places like Amazon and Starbucks that previously seemed impervious to efforts to organize, said Christian Sweeney, deputy Says AFL-CIO Organizing Director Dr.

“There is a growing sense that the major problems in our country are not being solved entirely through policy intervention or charitable work,” Sweeney says. “What is going on from the foundation is that people broadly see the labor movement as a place to shift the balance of power.”


This article was provided by Chronicle of Philanthropy to The Associated Press. Alex Daniels is a senior journalist at The Chronicle. Email: [email protected] The Associated Press and Chronicle receive support from the Lilly Endowment for its coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. Associated Press and Chronicle are solely responsible for all content. For all of Associated Press’s philanthropy coverage, visit,

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