Saturday, August 27, 2011

Non-Profits As Union-Busting Shock Troops

Bay Area Community Resources (BACR), a San Rafael-based non-profit, was implicated in the San Francisco Unified School District payment scandal, in which Associate Superintendent Trish Bascom funneled $100,000 from the organization into her pockets and those of a few cronies. Now, according to a report by the Bay Citizen, former BACR treasurer Ruth Rubalcava is accusing the organization of keeping SFUSD administrators on its payroll and allowed them to control millions of dollars of grant money held by the agency.

This is scandalous, of course. However, what is even more scandalous is why school districts must rely on agencies like BACR in the first place. The simple answer is that it is cheaper—it saves them money. But the reason why it is cheaper is not trivial. They are non-unionized and rely heavily on volunteer “slave” labor. (BACR has 250 employees and 6,000 volunteers). These same services, if covered by school districts, would not only be done by employees who would have to be paid, but they would be unionized district employees earning union wages.

Many volunteer and non-profit enterprises serve a similar function in society. They provide a needed service that consumers or taxpayers are unwilling to subsidize. Good-hearted people wanting to help make the world a better place volunteer their time and labor. However, by doing this work free of charge they are complicit in degrading the value of this work and in perpetuating the social dysfunction that creates the demand for the work in the first place.

Consider soup kitchens. In a wealthy society like ours, there should be no need for soup kitchens in the first place. We allow the richest members of society to possess the overwhelming majority of the wealth while denying a living income to millions. Of course this is the reality we live in and we cannot allow people to starve. But why not simply give money, food or food vouchers to everyone in need in a quantity necessary to survive, instead of creating an unpaid labor force to cook, serve and clean up after the indigent, or at least pay this labor force a living wage so we aren’t perpetuating their poverty?


  1. As a non profit professional looking for work, I see many "pro-bono" listings for the position I've held, and this is vexing. Make no mistake, volunteers are a much needed and valuable part of non profits, but this work takes skills, knowledge, and education that has a value, a dollar value, as well. The problem school districts have with hiring their own employees is often the amount of hours needed for after school exceeds union regulations. They also don't have the resources to provide proper training for the work. I've seen many non profits under investigation for misappropriation of government funds. The kids are the ones who suffer.

  2. Volunteers do make important contributions to society. However, in an ideal world, we would all have access to a decent of standard of living and all work that was worth doing would be funded sufficiently to ensure that it was done well, including remuneration .