ACLU Demands Loyalty of Its Employees

According to the Village Voice, the ACLU is looking to gut the union contract of its lowest paid workers, including its receptionists, mail clerks, and bookkeepers.

Non-profits and do-gooders are often bad employers, so I wasn’t too surprised to hear this. But I was surprised to hear this:

Managers are also looking to defang the “just cause” provision in union workers’ contracts, the right of a worker to get a fair hearing with an arbitrator if managers are looking to fire her. It demands that employers prove they have a good reason for terminating someone. The ACLU management hopes to narrow the infractions protected by the arbitration process, and to make “disloyalty” a fireable offense without defining what exactly disloyalty means.

All across the country—from California to Arizona to Georgia—the ACLU and its affiliates have been fighting the government’s use of loyalty oaths as a condition of employment.The ACLU, rightly, thinks it is wrong to require a government employee to swear her allegiance to the United States, a particular state, the Constitution, or a state constitution. But it thinks it’s just fine to fire its own employees for being disloyal to…what? The boss? The principles of the ACLU?

The ACLU is also one of the foremost defenders of the rights of due process of citizens and non-citizens. While it has long been a contentious issue as to whether and how the principles of due process apply to the workplace, the  idea of “just cause” termination lies well within the moral orbit of those principles. The notion that you should only be fired for a fireable offense—and that you should be entitled to defend yourself before a neutral third party against the claims of your employer—partakes of (and derives from) the same political universe that holds that the state should not deprive you of certain benefits without good reason and without some kind of procedure.

It is more than a little ironic that an organization that was explicitly founded on the defense of the rights of labor should have come to this pass. (Though anyone who’s been following the organization’s more recent history, as Mark Ames has, won’t be surprised. As an ACLU spokeswoman told Ames: “Labor rights are certainly a key issue for the ACLU; it is folded into our work for free speech, immigrants’ rights and women’s rights.” Notice what’s left out: their own employees.)

Still, the larger problem is not the ACLU past or present. It’s the continued refusal, even by our most progressive organizations, to see the workplace as a regime of governance, a regime that can spy on, harass, punish, control, and coerce its subjects, who often have far less rights against that regime than they do against their own government.

Update (July 25, 11 am)

Ned Resnikoff at MSNBC has more information on this. This caught my eye:

So far, many of ACLU’s non-union staff seem to be on the side of Local 2110. Over 60 of them co-signed a letter to Romero and the non-profit’s directors, urging them to “agree to a contract that does not cut benefits or diminish workplace rights.”

So if the non-union staff at the ACLU is on the side of the workers rather than management, to whom or what are the workers being disloyal?

Update (July 26, 11:45 pm)

More on the story here:

Ironically, in recent years, the ACLU has been an outspoken critic of wrongful discharge, stating, “The magnitude of the problem is enormous.” In fact, in 1998 and again in 2002, the ACLU published legislative briefs that advocated for nationwide “just cause” provisions as the “answer to injustice” in the workplace — the same provisions it is now seeking to jettison from some of its worker’s contracts.


  1. mindweapon July 24, 2013 at 5:08 pm | #

    Reblogged this on Mindweapons in Ragnarok and commented:
    Liberal hypocrisy LOL. How do you ask an employee to swear her loyalty to the principles of an organization that is opposed to loyalty oaths?

  2. Glenn July 24, 2013 at 6:26 pm | #

    Worst Instincts: Cowardice, Conformity, and the ACLU by Wendy Kaminer.

    I choose to donate to Center for Constitutional Rights, And let the ACLU know why when they call.

  3. Alex July 24, 2013 at 7:11 pm | #

    Truly appalling. Has anyone who works there started any sort of organized public resistance to this? I would be the first in line to notify the ACLU that I will be reconsidering my membership if this is how it guts its own ostensible principles.

  4. Blinkenlights der Gutenberg July 25, 2013 at 1:28 pm | #

    While you do have a point, being able to fire employees for disloyalty is still a very different thing from requiring a “loyalty oath.”

    • Corey Robin July 25, 2013 at 1:30 pm | #

      Yeah, I changed the language of the post as soon as the post went up yesterday in order to address that point.

      • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg July 25, 2013 at 6:16 pm | #

        Hm, so you did. And yet the URL remains forever!

  5. Alice Dubiel (@odaraia) July 25, 2013 at 7:23 pm | #

    Interesting. My husband works for a social service non-profit and your comment about notoriety in pay, etc. is at work there, too. But I really appreciate your comment that progressives need to get that the workplace is exactly “a regime of governance.” Since the 1970’s any non profits were formed to take the place of government services because they could cut unions out, pay less in wages and benefits. This ACLU issue could be about infusing syndicalist theory and history into workplace analysis. I hope it’s time for such an opening. We need to imagine shared sustenance, or even “tend and befriend” instead of workplace miserliness or, as politicians refer to it as “shared sacrifice.”

  6. chayes1892 July 29, 2013 at 10:09 pm | #

    “Non-profits and do-gooders are often bad employers…” – this is an interesting statement. I agree with it as an “unskilled” home healthcare provider who works for a nonprofit organization that pays very little and offers few benefits. I’m interested to know if there is any larger scale research on working conditions for nonprofit employees?

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