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Union files labor dispute charges against National Center for Transgender Equality

Activists and protesters with the National Center for Transgender Equality rally in front of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Washington, after the Department of Education and the Justice Department announce plans to overturn the school guidance on protecting transgender students.
Activists and protesters with the National Center for Transgender Equality rally in front of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Washington, after the Department of Education and the Justice Department announce plans to overturn the school guidance on protecting transgender students. Photo: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU) has informed LGBTQ Nation that as of Friday, they are seeking legal action against the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), one of the nation’s leading transgender advocacy organizations.

This follows the reports earlier this week that several employees were leaving their posts at the organization due to conflicting visions for the NCTE’s future. Employees demanded leadership of the NCTE accept sweeping reforms within the non-profit, and they asked for founder Mara Keisling’s resignation, among others.

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In their statement, the NPEU announced that they “filed an unfair labor practice charge against the [NCTE] for discharging all employees in the bargaining unit, in retaliation against the staff asking for voluntary recognition of their union.”

Laying out a year of dysfunction within the organization, the NPEU revealed in their statement that employees at the NCTE had attempted to voluntarily unionize the organization numerous times since November 2018, and that “NCTE’s work environment became more and more hostile in the months following… culminating in leadership pressuring staff to leave the organization.” The NCTE also had to deal with bomb threats in that time span, as we previously reported in August. That same month, several NCTE employees staged a walk out over their discontent with the leadership’s decision making.

“NCTE has not only taken away the staff’s livelihood, but has hurt the movement for transgender equality,” the union organizers wrote. “Ironically, organizing a union and negotiating a contract that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity is the only way for transgender workers to have explicit legal protections in the workplace in over half the country.”

NCEU’s president Kayla Blado wrote to LGBTQ Nation that “By filing the unfair labor practice charge, we’re hoping for justice for the NCTE staff who were unjustly laid off.”

“We believe management should be held accountable for their actions, and we hope the [National Labor Relations Board] sees that as well,” she informed me.

Reports began coming out on Wednesday that a majority of the staff at the Washington-based non-profit was leaving the organization, and it was varying reports allege that the amount of full time employees shrunk from 16 to 20 to just 7 in just as little as a day’s span.

That’s down from as much as 23 earlier in the year, leaving only one employee that was union-eligible and zero transgender people of color. (NCTE maintains that only nine employees have left the organization as of this week.)

NewNowNext reports that NCTE staffers’ frustration with the lack of racial diversity and retention among employees culminated in a four-hour meeting ‘standoff’ with leadership of the advocacy group, in which leadership claims they asked the staff to “embrace a new chapter at NCTE, but we didn’t want anyone to feel pressured.”

They then offered all discontent employees a 10-week buyout of their employment, which the organization states that all of them took.

Several staff members’ issues with the NCTE reached a boiling point with the firing of Lissette Miller, a non-binary employee of color who organized the innovative United States Transgender Survey, which was last conducted in 2015 and credited as “the only data available on transgender people in the U.S. with respect to employment, housing, medical care, discrimination, housing, incarceration, and aging.” That prompted the August walkout and initiated the internal call for Mara Keisling’s resignation along with her deputy executive.

Following NewNowNext‘s reports between August and this week, a group of those that had left the NCTE banded together to make their first public statements regarding this issue, and wrote an open letter at Out Magazine. Here’s what the employees said, in part:

…Over the last decade, it’s been abundantly clear that members of the executive team hold an inconsistent and irreconcilable view of how to make the organization itself a strong social justice movement — including recognition of a union and steps needed to ensure NCTE itself is an equitable place for people of color, people with disabilities, and other marginalized members of the transgender community.

…Since 2012, the organization has watched at least 35 employees begin and end employment, 21 of whom are people of color. Fourteen of those employees expressed strong complaints of racism within the organization….At least four people of color were told to sign nondisclosure agreements; no white former staff member of NCTE has reported doing the same.

The open letter also added in regards to the buyout offer that “the message sent by this decision was unmistakable: All of the work and experience we bring to the organization was, in their view, dispensable, while an inconsistent and problematic leadership was not. For reasons both personal and professional, many of us accepted the offer.”

Keisling, who serves as Executive Director, took to Twitter just yesterday explaining her version of events as of late at the center. Keisling has defended herself again accusations of using “horrible language” against people of color.

“I am so proud of the work that everyone at NCTE including me has done so far, and am hopeful for how we will move forward. I’m not perfect,” part of her four-paragraph message reads. She also expresses her desire to rebuild. “It’s time to get back to the work that trans people really, desperately, need us to do,” she said in a separate statement.

The NCTE was not immediately available to respond to LGBTQ Nation about this story.

Editor’s note: It came to our attention after publication that Lissette Miller was misgendered in another report. They are gender non-binary, and we are gravely sorry for repeating that mistake.

The article was updates on November 19, 2019, for grammar and clarity.

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