Lawrence Community Shelter employees vote unanimously to unionize

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Through a National Labor Relations Board election Thursday, employees of the Lawrence Community Shelter affirmed that they will unionize with CWA Local 6400.

The vote was unanimous among 21 employees, CWA Local 6400 President Hannah Allison-Natale said via email Friday. Six other eligible employees did not cast ballots.

The emergency shelter serves people experiencing homelessness. Workers said they want to unionize to ensure that they feel safe and supported so they are able to provide care for the guests the shelter serves.

Staff members had asked LCS management to voluntarily recognize the union, but the shelter’s board of directors hesitated to sign off because they were unsure what that would mean and what kind of timeline it could create for contract negotiations. The shelter is also working to expand its capacity for the winter and seeking a permanent executive director.

Jacob Schmill, direct services advocate, said the election shows employees of LCS are united in seeking positive change and better conditions for themselves and the people they serve.

Maisie Hotvedt, direct service advocate, said staff members are aiming to provide training to better prepare staff, and to establish bonds with city leaders and the community as a whole. Hotvedt said the unionization will help employees to provide more resources to inspire guests to lear, grow and achieve independence and stability.

“Our work is only just beginning, but seeing the passion in people around me, every day, gives me great hope for us all,” Hotvedt said in an emailed statement. “We give big thanks to everyone for their support!”

Bella Kurtz, inreach case manager, said the staff members are really excited about the unanimous victory.

“This is one step in making LCS a better place for both staff and our guests,” Kurtz said in the emailed statement. “We’re excited to work with the directors and board to ensure we all continue to be represented and the needs of staff and guests are met.”

Melanie Valdez, interim executive director of the shelter, got word during Thursday’s LCS board of directors meeting that the vote was unanimous. Board President Charlie Bryan said he had been looking into legal counsel to advise LCS as contract negotiations move forward.

The board is conducting a national search for the shelter’s next permanent executive director. The job posting received 121 applications, board Treasurer Rebekah Gaston said Thursday, and the board will whittle those down in the coming weeks.

CWA Local 6400 also represents hourly staff at Lawrence Public Schools, workers at Kansas Action for Children and more.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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