Why We Unionized

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 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 initial demands include:

More robust parental and family leave.

Currently, Brookings provides only four weeks of paid family leave. This not only lags behind other think tanks, but is less than what Brookings scholars themselves recommend. Indeed, Brookings scholarship in recent years has recommended workers receive anywhere from eight to 12 weeks of paid family leave. It’s time for Brookings to follow its own proposals.

A greater voice in ongoing institutional decisions.

Brookings leadership is currently making major decisions regarding the future of Brookings’s campus, what our work style will be, and even what positions at the organization will be necessary in the post-pandemic environment. It is critical to ensure that non-supervisory staff has more than just a comment form to express its voice in these efforts.

At the same time, Brookings has, through inaction, offloaded a significant share of work costs onto employees. Currently, Brookings staff rely on their personal cell phones and internet plans, and have been subjected to additional personal costs like increased heating and electrical bills that arise due to the need to work fully from home. Yet Brookings has not done enough to defray these costs, even as its fixed office costs have plummeted. Given the new hybrid model that Brookings is aiming for in the post-COVID environment, it will be important to ensure that work flexibility doesn’t mean continued cost offloads onto staff.

A more centralized and sustained commitment to inclusion and diversity (I&D).

Currently, inclusion and diversity efforts are managed at the research program and business unit level. While there are some advantages to that, such as the ability to design achievable goals given the current baseline of each business unit, it also leads to inconsistent progress across Brookings. Not only that, but I&D efforts currently fall on staff shoulders and are treated as a commitment that staff need to do in their spare time or on top of their existing work. A more centralized commitment to I&D, including the hiring of a chief diversity officer and the establishment of a budget and timecodes for I&D activities, would help make these efforts more sustained and consistent across Brookings.

Compensation, benefits, and career paths.

For nearly three years, Brookings has had ongoing task forces looking at compensation, benefits, and career paths, which have produced little in the way of results. Meanwhile, inequalities in these areas continue to exist across the institution, including for individuals with the same titles. A collective bargaining agreement will finally help establish clear benchmarks for compensation and career paths and will help make benefits more equitable between longer-tenured staff and less-tenured staff.

A move to just-cause employment and the elimination of one-year employment contracts.

Currently nearly all Brookings employees are hired on one-year contracts that are renewed annually at the discretion of Brookings. Brookings claims that this is because their grant-based revenue model means they can’t guarantee long-term employment. But nearly all other think tanks, including those organized by NPEU, are funded by grants and don’t need to rely on one-year contracts. We want Brookings to move to a more permanent employment model and enact just-cause employment protections for non-managerial staff.

A voice for all of us.

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, we 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.

As the next generation of Brookings’s leaders, we remain committed to the institution’s values of quality, independence, and impact. To further those values, Brookings must also engage with its workforce to create an inclusive and sustainable environment in the post-COVID-19 world. 

We recognize the innate strengths of all people, ask that all employees are treated with respect, and are set up for success. Let’s help shape the future of work at Brookings to make all voices welcome, protected, and empowered.