ITHACA, N.Y. –– On Friday, Sciencenter employees unanimously voted to create the organization’s first-ever union.

On Oct. 24, a vote was held at the Sciencenter by the National Labor Relations Board. Staff cast ballots deciding whether or not to be represented by Workers United, SEIU union. The final count came in Friday with a unanimous decision to unionize.

Dean Briere, executive director of the Sciencenter, said the decision to unionize was unexpected by management.

“We were initially surprised but supportive of an effort that was democratic and had a secret ballot vote,” Briere said. “And if it got voted on by the majority of the staff, that we would recognize the union and negotiate with them in good faith.”

Briere said management will have to shift their business practices to accommodate the new decision.

“It’s going to be a learning curve for everyone,” he said. “We are going to continue to work as a team — the board, the management and the staff, to cultivate a community of curious, confident, critical-thinkers working towards our mission and supporting the community.”

Lucas Fredericks is a Sciencenter employee who has been heavily involved in organizing the unionization movement there.

“We met two or three months ago with a bunch of other workers and we decided that there were enough of us,” Fredericks said. “As it turns out, it was all of us who thought that this was the right step forward, that this would help the Sciencenter work better and would be a really healthy thing for workers and the Sciencenter and community.”

What drew Fredericks and the rest of the organization to the Workers United union, a union that recently-unionized Gimme! Coffee also works with, was the style of their operation.

“We ended up with Workers United, who I think has been really fantastic for us so far. Their organizing model is very collectivist, sort of radically worker-led and thats what drew us to them,” Fredericks said.

Emily Belle, another Sciencenter union organizer, echoed a similar sentiment.

“We wanted something really organic that could meet the needs of the Sciencenter and we’re really happy we were able to find that in Workers United,” said Belle. “So many of the Sciencenter workers have been hugely involved and lent their specific skills to this organizing effort…It really felt like a collective effort and we’ve grown a lot as a team together and learned a lot about each other.”

Belle and Fredericks couldn’t share too many specifics about what the union is trying to accomplish in the short-term, but that they hope the Sciencenter can become a more cohesive work environment and, ultimately, provide a better service to the community.

“We think that collectivism and democracy are really good organizing principles especially for an organization whose purpose is to serve our community,” Fredericks said. “We think the more we can get everybody involved as a voice who is a part of that community, the better we will be at serving that mission.”

Organizers did mention that one of the first bargaining points the new union negotiators may broach is just-cause termination instead of at-will employment.

Several local businesses have made an effort to unionize recently, including Gimme! Coffee, Ithaca Coffee Company, Cornell University graduate students, Ithaca College adjunct faculty and GreenStar workers. According to Belle, what makes the Sciencenter union different is that, “we are a fairly small staff, we’re all in one location, we’ve done a lot of work to know each other and really be on the same page on this,” she said. “I think that’s really clearly demonstrated in the fact that we unanimously voted to affiliate with Workers United.”

Union organizers are hoping for feedback from the Sciencenter community, as well.

“We’re building this for the workers, but also the membership and the community at large.”

Featured image courtesy of Lucas Fredericks.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com