Volunteer Engagement Best Practices – Do unions like volunteers and volunteering?

7 Feb

Volunteer Engagement Best Practices – Do unions like volunteers and volunteering?

Yes, unions and union members are often great supporters of nonprofits and proactive volunteers. The gray area seems to be when it comes to collective bargaining agreements and whether unions or union workers are concerned that volunteer involvement will impact their job security. Worst case: the organization lays off 3/4 of its employees and tries to replace them with volunteers vs. Best case in which volunteer opportunities are created to enhance overall reach and revenue working in partnership with union and non-union employees and management.

This question was generated in response to my LinkedIn discussion thread – What’s new and next for Volunteer Engagement in 2012? Last year it was micro-volunteering and the emergence of Sparked.org…, what new for you? in the Volunteer Management Best Practices network Group.

Among the questions raised – are there successful volunteer engagement in unionized environments.

My three examples:
• A number of the American Red Cross Blood Service Regions had unions with employees working on the technical parts of blood collections. This union members worked in collaboration with hundreds of volunteers who helped to staff the blood drives or served as drivers transporting blood to and from blood drives or from the Red Cross facilities to customers such as hospitals.
• All nonprofits have volunteer boards of directors who work with executive leadership to review, negotiation and approve union contracts.
• Many union members have been very active as American Red Cross disaster response volunteers for both local and national disasters.

Volunteer Engagement is a proven, viable staffing option for most nonprofits providing complementary staffing solutions to full time employees, part time employees and temporary contractors. Most nonprofits start out with totally volunteer staff, gradually over time nonprofits are able to add part time then full time employees to cover functions that are hard to staff with volunteers alone.

A good example is a Fire Department, in a suburban area this may include a blend of volunteers and employees with equivalent training with the employees hired to cover busy times of the day when many volunteer firemen and women are committed to other full time jobs. Overtime collective bargaining agreements may be negotiated to ensure both coverage and security for unionized fire fighters; however in many companies volunteers still play key complementary and leadership roles.

See also Susan Ellis’ Hot Topic from 1997 in Energize, Inc. – Why is it Labor Unions vs. Volunteers?

I welcome other thoughts and comments.

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