Jewish labor

Mazon employees look to unionize; leadership says it’s supportive, needs time to consider

Head of the unionizing effort says employees ‘driven by Jewish values’ 

Employees at Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger announced plans to form a union on Tuesday afternoon, a rare move for Jewish nonprofits.

“We’re really united by the pride of working for an organization that is driven by Jewish values, and it’s those same values that are compelling us to unionize our workplace,” Lauren Banister, a Mazon organizer who helps teach synagogues about food insecurity and is one of the leaders of the unionizing effort, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “We really believe that the union will provide a path for collaboration between staff and management.”

Mazon, which focused on hunger and food insecurity advocacy and education, had an operating budget of $4.77 million in 2021. Banister told eJP that the unionizing effort has support from 13 out of Mazon’s 14 eligible employees. 

The group of employees, which called their union Mazon United, said they were giving the organization’s management 24 hours to voluntarily recognize the union before filing paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board. 

Liza Lieberman, vice president of communications at Mazon, told eJP that the organization was “more than willing” to have its workers unionize, but wanted more time to review the matter.

“Mazon, as a progressive organization, is not opposed to its staff becoming unionized and Mazon supports unions,” Lieberman wrote in an email. “Mazon is more than willing to enter into an agreement setting forth a process for Mazon to voluntarily recognize a union for its staff. Because this is all new to us and there are legal issues involved, Mazon needs more than 24 hours to respond to Mazon United.”

In a statement, Mazon United said it was moving ahead with a vote through the NLRB. “We know we will win,” the group said.

Though not unheard of, relatively few Jewish nonprofits have unionized workers. Exceptions to that include Jews United for Justice, J Street, Bend the Arc, the American Jewish World Service, Avodah and and the Jewish Organizing Institute and Network (JOIN). In the United States in general, union membership is rare, standing at 10.1% as of 2022, the lowest level since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the figure.

Leading Edge, which researches and consults on Jewish nonprofit workplaces, recently conducted a study of Jewish organizations that had been “newly unionized, were in the process of being unionized and were not in the process of being unionized,” the organization’s president and CEO, Gali Cooks, said on the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Identity Crisis podcast recently.

“What we see is that for the organizations that have been unionized, the employees do report feeling more [of] a sense of higher well-being and more work-life balance. When it comes to leadership and actually producing the work that needs to be done, they score dramatically lower than organizations that are not unionized,” Cooks said on the podcast. (Leading Edge declined to speak with eJP about this topic.)

Mazon United said it planned to join the Communications Workers of America union, local chapter 9003.

“This was after a process of speaking to many unions. Local 9003 is located where Mazon is headquartered [in Los Angeles] and they have a long history of not just working with communications workers but working with other businesses and nonprofits,” Banister said.

Banister said the employees were “inspired by labor organizing and workers’ rights both in modern Jewish history and within our Torah and other [biblical] works.”