According to members of the Experimental Station Union, which announced its formation on March 22, the board of directors at Experimental Station has not recognized their union.

At a virtual meeting on March 25, members of the union said on social media, board president Marty Friedman read out a letter arguing against employees forming a union and then ended the meeting without allowing further discussion. 

Union members say that Friedman’s letter, which represented the view of the board, argued, “We cannot allow someone who knows nothing about our business influencing our organization”, “The pay and benefits you (members of the union) now have would be negotiated. You could even get less than you have now,” and that “lots of donors would be concerned if they perceived that our organization is unstable.” 

Board members also allegedly said that a union would not allow staff to have more say in crafting the organization, which would remain the purview of management regardless, and that a union would not guarantee their job security. 

Experimental Station Executive Director Connie Spreen and President Marty Friedman neither confirmed nor denied the union’s account of proceedings. They told the Herald, “We are supportive of unions generally in the appropriate settings and provided that employees have a chance to exercise their rights — and provided all understand what that means to them and this entire organization. We share with our employees a belief in the missions of ES, the opportunities that result from collaboration, and the commitment to work together.” 

Ten staffers have recently left Experimental Station, a nonprofit and community space at 6100 S. Blackstone Ave., according to members of the union. 

In recent weeks the union has received endorsements from Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) and Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), as well as a host of political and labor organizations, including the Greater Chicago International Workers of the World, the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, the For the People Artists Collective, 48th Ward Neighbors for Justice, Care Not Cops and the University of Chicago Labor Council.

Taylor’s endorsement reads, “I wholeheartedly support the workers at Experimental Station unionizing and urge the Director and Board to stand by their employees.”

Sam Stecklow, a researcher at the Invisible Institute and editor at the South Side Weekly, both of which rent space in Experimental Station, said in a statement, “It is extremely disappointing to see an organization like ES union-bust, and really brings into question a lot of the values of the organization.”

Tenants in the building wrote a letter of support for the unionization effort that they shared with Spreen. (The Herald, which is also housed in the Experimental Station, did not sign the letter, and Herald editorial staff have not assisted on either side of the unionization effort.) 

Several endorsements allude to prior misconduct on the part of the Experimental Station management. Chris Willard, former Blackstone Bicycle Works Youth Instructor, said in a statement, “Blackstone staff, contract workers, and youth are underserved in the current power structure, and Blackstone is failing because of it.” 

The union said they will likely amplify their campaign soon.

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