Staffers with the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits (MCN), the largest statewide nonprofit association in the country, announced Friday that they are forming a union.

Employees of the St. Paul-based group, which started in 1987 and has about two dozen workers and a $3.8  million annual budget, seek to join the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild. An election will be held in April to establish the union and begin contract negotiations if successful.

In a statement, the organization said it is "energized to explore the proposal" and will listen to all parties involved at a board meeting Tuesday. Executive Director Jon Pratt has the authority to voluntarily recognize the union.

Amber Davis, a nonprofit services assistant at MCN, said the union plan has majority support from the nonmanagement employees who would be voting and that organizing workers at MCN has been a "long time coming."

Reasons to form a union, Davis said, include limited transparency on policy changes, dismissive behavior toward workers and high turnover.

"We just feel like change is overdue at MCN," Davis said. "We're no longer accepting of working at the expense of our professional goals, our mental and physical health, and our time."

The nonprofit council joins a nationwide trend of nonprofits organizing amid job cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially museums and arts organizations.

Last year, staffers at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis won voluntary union recognition in December with AFSCME Council 5. The staff of Jewish Community Action joined the Office and Professional Employees International Union.

MCN can serve as an example for other nonprofits, Davis said.

"I think our union will help encourage and formalize other nonprofits unionizing," Davis said. "All these nonprofits that are working so hard toward equity and justice can actually work together, and possibly they can all unionize and transform our sector."

Jamie Millard, the executive director of Pollen, a Minneapolis media arts nonprofit, agreed. She said that as a leader in the nonprofit sector, MCN has a chance to direct nonprofits into a future with more organized labor forces.

"I think it's very encouraging and I think there's nothing but good that can come from greater worker protection," Millard said. "We've seen that in other sectors, and there's no reason why that wouldn't be applicable and exciting for the nonprofit sector."

Pollen doesn't have a union, but there have been discussions within the organization about starting one, Millard said.

Minnesota's nonprofit sector has steadily grown over the years, reaching 391,000 workers in 2019 — 14% of the state's workforce — surpassing the government sector for the first time in the number of employees and share of the workforce.

About 40% of nonprofit employees filed unemployment claims from March to September last year due to furloughs, layoffs or reduced hours during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild, which MCN employees hope to join, represents employees at the Star Tribune.

Peter Warren • 612-673-1713