Greenpeace Canvassers Want To Unionize

August 28, 2015       Andy Segedin      

Approximately 11 percent of Greenpeace USA canvassers walked off the job earlier this month. A Change.org petition and social media campaign have been launched in an effort to increase their job security and input in organizational decisions.

Sixteen of 19 canvassers in San Diego began their strike on Aug. 5, according to Bryan Kim, the strike’s organizer. Six of nine canvassers in Sacramento followed with their own walkout the next day. According to Greenpeace USA, there are approximately 200 canvassers nationwide, working from 16 offices in 13 cities. Seven of the strikers have since returned to work.

The striking canvassers are not seeking increased wages but do want a collective bargaining agreement, the right to unionize and the ability to engage in local campaigns, Kim said. As proposed, Greenpeace canvas offices would be able to keep 10 percent of funding that exceeds budget to direct toward local campaigns that staffers would be able to steer with the national office maintaining veto power.

Canvassers are scheduled to meet with Greenpeace management early next month, according to Kim.

The petition, which began on Aug. 12, had garnered 464 online signatures as of 3 p.m. EST Friday, with a “Greenpeace on Strike” Facebook page standing at 544 likes. Canvassers’ potential termination should they fail to meet two- and three-week fundraising quotas is at the center of concerns, according to the online petition.

“When our staff members express concerns about our policies we take it very seriously,” said Brian Anderson, Greenpeace USA chief development officer via a statement to The NonProfit Times. “Greenpeace strives to be an organization that treats its employees well and empowers individuals at every level of the organization to speak their minds. I have personally reached out to these individuals to hear their concerns, and we have plans to meet with them in the near future to discuss how the program will evolve.”

Greenpeace implemented a new interim quota system that provides high-performing and long-term canvassers longer grace periods of up to six weeks to improve low contribution totals, Anderson said. Many Greenpeace USA staffers in other departments started as canvassers, according to Anderson, indicating that the organization wants to address concerns about job security and improve employee retention.

Increased grace periods for longer-term staff are not likely to help the majority as the average Greenpeace canvasser who makes staff lasts just two to three months, according Kim, who worked in Greenpeace’s San Diego and Raleigh offices from May 2011 to March 2013.

Strikers are proposing a lifetime quota system that factors in the amount of residual donations from donors brought in by the canvassers, according to Kim. Canvassers are expected to raise $150 in new donations each week, Kim said, a total that does not factor in residuals. While in favor of two-week quotas for new canvassers, the strikers’ proposal would protect canvassers from termination provided their total donations cover their cost of employment after being on staff for three or four months. Canvassers earn $13 per hour while trainers earn $15 per hour, Kim said. Earnings can vary office by office.

Should their donations double the cost of their employment, canvassers would have the option to work one day per week off-street to pursue leadership opportunities, such as contacting volunteers and researching local campaigns, Kim said. Canvassers would have the opportunity to spend two or three days per week in other roles should they triple or quadruple their cost of employment.

“The whole idea is to put more control in the hands of the people that are already doing so well in representing Greenpeace,” Kim said. Greenpeace declined to disclose the total amount raised by canvassers.

A lack of tactical control for local campaigns was among the reasons Holly Hanks, who worked in Greenpeace’s Washington, D.C. and Raleigh offices from 2011 to 2013, left the organization. Hanks, who worked as a fundraiser, trainer and senior campaign coordinator, is among more than 60 former Greenpeace leaders and canvassers to sign a solidarity letter with the strikers.

Offices were given limited resources and authority to pursue local campaigns during Hanks’ tenure, with local campaign budgets set at $100 per office, she said. Turnover among canvassers was also a factor, according to Hanks. “It was increasingly difficult to watch talented, dedicated people be lost to the quota system,” Hanks said.

Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace, has provided his support to the strikers. “It’s a tough, thankless job that contributes greatly to the financial security and success of Greenpeace,” Watson said via an email. “With a fairer treatment for the canvassers, I believe it would contribute much more. Happy workers are productive workers.”

Watson has applied for the executive director position of Greenpeace International and said that, if selected, he would address the treatment of staffers and volunteers. Watson said that he believes that the quota system should be replaced with a standard performance review.

Greenpeace was in the process of conducting an audit of its in-house fundraising program, including its quota system, prior to the staff walkout, Anderson said via an email. The audit is expected to be completed in January. All canvas operations function on a quota system, Anderson said, describing Greenpeace’s system as more generous than many others. Under the interim quota plan, canvassers are granted an additional grace period week for every year they have been employed. “We believe this is fair, but we will continue to discuss this with canvassers at the planned September meeting and beyond.”

Seven of the canvassers returned to work since the interim quota system was proposed on Aug. 25, Anderson said. The new system is now in place for all of Greenpeace’s canvassers and team-lead personnel. Anderson has already met with city coordinators in many of Greenpeace’s offices to discuss the need for potential changes as part of the audit and plans to cast a wider net to hear from more staffers.

“We’re not locked into our current policies, as is shown by the interim quota measure we have already taken,” Anderson said. “However, the financial health of the organization relies on individual contributions, since we are independent and don’t take money from governments or corporations. Because of that, we have to proceed carefully and ensure that whatever we do creates both a sustainable work environment for our employees and continues to support the financial health of the organization.”