Six staffers at the nonprofit space Experimental Station announced the formation of their union in a letter Monday afternoon, citing managerial issues and the need for greater workplace democracy.
The staffers — who work as administrators in the nonprofit located at 6100 S. Blackstone Ave., as well as at Blackstone Bicycle Works, the 61st St. Farmers Market, and Link Up, a program that makes healthy food more affordable — are planning to join the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 39.
Their letter, addressed to Experimental Station executive director Connie Spreen and board president Marty Friedman, states that they seek to gain voluntary recognition of the union from management and "want a safe and transparent workplace where staff are empowered to address systemic issues of white supremacy and sexism — problems endemic to most workplaces but which are too often ignored."
"Empowered staff make for better workplaces, and our union will make our work more sustainable," they wrote. "We are proud of the work that we do at the Experimental Station, and we are eager to play a central role in its future." The letter also emphasizes that the formation of a union will improve staff’s capacity to engage in Woodlawn.
Spreen declined comment to the Herald.
Union members also shared testimony on its website from current and former Experimental Station employees.
DJ Fish, a member of the Experimental Station Union and a staffer at Blackstone Bicycle Works, said, “As an educator and mechanic I've seen the amazing things that can happen when folks come together collectively in pursuit of their goals. The ES Union will ensure the safety of Blackstone Bicycle Works students and staff.”
Wendy Zeldin, former manager of the 61st Street Farmers Market said that “the dearth of accountability and transparency (at Experimental Station) is neither sustainable nor acceptable.”
Other tenants in the building, including the Invisible Institute, Build Coffee and South Side Weekly, wrote a letter of support for the unionization effort that they shared with Spreen. (The Herald's publisher, Jason Schumer, is also the managing director of South Side Weekly. The Herald, which is housed in the Experimental Station, did not sign the letter, and Herald editorial staff have not assisted in the unionization effort.)
Members of the union said they expected the union would to be recognized in a statement to the Herald, "With the outpouring of community support we've already seen, and which we expect to only grow within the coming days, we fully expect a community organization like Experimental Station to listen the voices of its communities — from tenants, to neighbors, to President Biden — and voluntarily recognize our union at their next Board meeting this Wednesday."