Frequently Asked Questions

The mission of Brookings United is to work together to make the Brookings Institution an even better place to work—for all of us. As one of the largest and most reputable think tanks in the world, we’re ready to set a new industry standard where all have an equitable share in decision making.

What is a union?

Quite simply, a union is the people who make up a workplace! More specifically, a labor union is a group of workers who make the decision to bargain collectively about the conditions affecting their work. The National Labor Relations Act gives workers a legal mechanism to come together to improve their workplace. With a union, staff have a legally protected right to bargain with their employer and tools to enforce the contract once it’s in effect. At Brookings United, our goal is to bring the economic and social justice that Brookings scholars and staff write about on a daily basis to our workplace. We have organized with the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU), a union of professional staff at more nearly 40 nonprofit research and advocacy organizations in DC and across the country.

What does it take to form a union?

All it takes to form a union is the support of a majority of non-managerial staff within a workplace. The process begins with staff sharing information, discussing areas of collective interest, and building support from across coworkers for the union. Once a majority of staff have indicated support for the union by signing an authorization card, the union is formed and can begin the process of negotiating with the employer on behalf of all non-supervisory staff. Unions are inherently democratic entities and all Brookings non-managerial staff will have an opportunity to elect peers to lead the union.

What do unions have to do with me?

Coming together with colleagues to form a union is about securing a voice at work and a seat at the table with your employer. A union brings together the collective strength of you and your coworkers to improve wages, benefits, workload, hiring, promotions, personnel policies, and other terms of your employment. A union gives you equal footing with your employer to negotiate a contract that preserves what you like about your workplace and improves what you don’t. In short, a union helps ensure professional dignity and respect in the workplace.

As noted by Brookings scholars, it is because of the tireless efforts of unions that the American worker has secured basic dignities such as the eight-hour workday and overtime pay. As Brookings United, we believe unionizing is an act of justice for those among us with the smallest voice. Our goal is to use our collective power to support our coworkers and help Brookings live up to its core values.

How does bargaining work?

With a union, Brookings staff will have a say in the terms and condition of our employment. Bargaining will give workers a collective voice in the decisions management makes that affect us. This is particularly important in a post-COVID-19 world. Brookings employees deserve a say in how and when we return to the workplace and what hybrid work looks like.

NPEU members have negotiated for:

  • Salary and promotion policies
  • Health care, retirement, and other benefits
  • Vacation time, sick leave, paid family leave
  • Hiring, firing, disciplinary, and promotion policies
  • Telework, flex time, and overtime policies
  • Policies to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion for staff based on race or ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ, and disability status
  • Protections against harassment
  • Staff representation in strategic decisions, including board participation
  • Professional development, training, tuition reimbursement, and career ladders

What are Brookings United’s demands?

Our first request is that Brookings voluntarily recognize our union. We are a diverse group of staff encompassing an overwhelming majority of non-managerial workers at Brookings. Our mission is to ensure that Brookings lives up to the values it espouses in its scholarship and official statements.

What we will bargain for as a union will be determined democratically by our membership. From our hundreds of conversations with staff, some themes continued to come up. Our demands include:

  • More robust parental and family leave
  • A greater voice in ongoing institutional decisions
  • A more centralized and sustained commitment to inclusion and diversity (I&D)
  • Compensation, benefits, and career paths

The ways in which we will transform and strengthen our workplace, and the bargaining priorities we pursue, are entirely up to staff. Once our union is certified, our union will elect bargaining team leads and they will survey all staff to help us build shared priorities. Given the fast-moving pace of decision making amid the end of the pandemic and the coming return-to-work, our demands are subject to evolve to reflect the situation of our workers. We will strive to give voice and power to Brookings non-supervisory staff so that their needs are addressed in a continually changing workplace.

Read more about our potential bargaining priorities here.

What happens when I sign a card?

When you sign a card, your information will be verified and routed to NPEU, who will hold it confidentially. Brookings management and your supervisor will not see your card and will not learn about your support unless you choose to disclose it. Management is prohibited by law from asking you about your union support in a manner that discourages you from engaging in union activity.

Will my manager retaliate against me?

The National Labor Relations Act protects the right to organize and makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for joining a union or participating in union activities. While laws can be broken by employers, being in a union actually provides workers greater protection against retaliation. Being in a union makes you part of a team that will be on your side if you do experience retaliation. NPEU, through its international union IFPTE, has expert legal counsel who will defend the rights of any worker who may have been punished for union activity. If you are concerned your are experiencing retaliation or have any questions about your rights, please get in touch with us at

Will I have to strike?

Strikes can be a powerful tool and any decisions about striking will be made by you and your fellow Brookings colleagues. However, in the 20-year history of NPEU, none of the bargaining units it has helped organize has ever needed to strike. A strike can only occur if an overwhelming majority of the members affected vote to approve it. NPEU or IFPTE can’t force you to strike. That would be a decision made democratically by us, as Brookings workers, together.

How much are dues?

NPEU dues are 0.75% of pre-tax wages (about $30 a month for an employee earning $50,000 a year). Dues aren’t collected until after the first contract is negotiated and ratified.

What will my dues be used for?

As we continue to support and represent a majority of Brookings non-supervisory staff, dues will cover costs like digital infrastructure and communications materials. Union dues also help pay for membership to NPEU, IFPTE, and the AFL-CIO. These organizations support Brookings United by providing access to legal, training, bargaining, and support services; access to NPEU events and annual meetings; discretionary funds for events and solidarity activities; and assistance if our employer violates our union contract.

Isn’t 0.75% of dues high?

We are organizing within a 100-year old institution with a long-established “way of doing business,” and dues provide the financial resources to support that effort. Remember: No union member will pay dues until our first contract is ratified by a full vote of the membership. The goal of any contract negotiation will be to create enough new compensation and benefits for Brookings non-supervisory staff that it more than makes up for the amount paid in dues.

Not only that, but 0.75% is lower than dues at most other unions. An analysis by the Alphabet Workers Union (which represents workers within Google and its affiliated companies) found the average union dues to be 1.25% of worker’s paychecks.

How can I organize my workplace?

If you and some of your colleagues are interested in joining NPEU, please contact us to learn more.

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