National Labor Relations Board certifies union at the Schuylkill Center


On March 1, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certified the vote of workers at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education to unionize. The week before, the eligible staff at the center had voted 93% in favor to form a union affiliated with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees District Council 47 (AFSCME DC 47) Local 397.

Low wages and discontent with management decisions drove the unionizing effort, according to Nick Tonetti, an environmental educator and one of the organizers. “I’ve worked at the Schuylkill Center for four years. In my time I’ve seen waves of discontent happen,” he says. “It seems like there’s a cycle. There is a lot of discontent, people make concerns known, and when things don’t change, a lot of people quit and the cycle starts back up.”

Tonetti cited the controversial attempt by the Schuylkill Center to sell off a section of its property called the Boy Scout Tract in 2022 as impetus for the organizing effort. News of the proposed sale broke through documents leaked by an unidentified source. “A lot of people felt betrayed by how the news broke,” Tonetti says. Several workers left, leaving the remaining staff with a heavier workload. “That’s when staff started meeting to see what we can do to address the issues we were having.”

The Boy Scout Tract is 24 forested acres that was acquired by the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in 1987. It is now under threat of high-end development. Photography by Troy Bynum.

Following the NLRB’s certification, the next step will be for the newly formed union to negotiate a contract with the Center management. Tonetti says that higher wages top the list of union priorities. “We all really love working for the Schuylkill Center and love it itself, but a lot of people have come and gone that really wanted to stay,” Tonetti says. He says the starting wage for a part-time environmental educator at the center is $15 per hour. “People take that low wage because they love the work, but we think you should take a job you love and afford to live in the city you live in.”

Center interim executive director Erin Mooney says that management supports the unionization effort. “We really are a place where our employees are our brand,” she says. “We want them to be happy and fulfilled in all ways and we hope we can get there together.”

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