Stronger Than Ever

The Next 50 Years of Greenpeace with a powerful workers’ union

by Valentina Stackl & Varsha Nair

September 30, 2021

Greenpeace began its journey to embed justice many years ago. The goal has been to bring in diverse voices and perspectives and to amplify those voices throughout all aspects of our work to ensure that we can hear the sound of justice in all that we do.

“We formed a union to fight for fair and better working conditions, and for a culture rooted in justice.” Charlie Jiang, Greenpeace USA Workers (In These Times, October 2020)

Greenpeace began its journey to embed justice many years ago. The goal has been to bring in diverse voices and perspectives and to amplify those voices throughout all aspects of our work to ensure that we can hear the sound of justice in all that we do. To date, work on justice includes work on policies, practices, and programs, but also on ourselves, our assumptions, and our expectations. Our desire is to go beyond advancing equity and justice to actually dismantling the systems and narratives of injustice that persist within our world, our organization, and ourselves. 

As the next phase in this evolution, Greenpeace USA workers affiliated with the Progressive Workers Union in our efforts to advance a more just and equitable organization.  The past few years have seen colleagues across the progressive movement come together to form unions — including environmental groups like Sierra Club,, League of Conservation Voters, and Union of Concerned Scientists. This groundswell of unionizing is also taking a hold of environmental organizations, and it’s changing the climate justice movement for the better. At Greenpeace USA, staff started organizing in 2019 centered in the belief that building collective power would allow us to advance fair pay and policies, greater transparency, and a more just and supportive work culture. Now, we join various Greenpeace offices across the world with successful workers’ unions and collectives, including Greenpeace Canada and Greenpeace International. 

In August 2020, Greenpeace Workers announced the intent to unionize with the Progressive Workers Union (PWU) and were voluntarily recognized by Greenpeace management. We are now bargaining our very first contract, which we are hoping will be one of the most equitable and progressive contracts in the industry. 

So, why unionize? 

Because unions work. To build a just transition to a more green and peaceful future, we must also turn inwards and strengthen the systems and policies that guide our organizations. By unionizing, we are also building solidarity with laborers and workers across sectors. We are steadfast in our commitment to live up to our organizational values, externally and internally. 

We know Greenpeace USA should always be growing and improving. We are helping create a culture of care, camaraderie, and solidarity.  We are building a workplace in which all staff are treated with dignity and respect, and in which justice, equity, and collective liberation are embedded into our DNA. 

By forming the Greenpeace USA Workers Union, we are joining a broader struggle — across U.S. nonprofits and movements, and across the Greenpeace global organization — to win the dignity, justice, and respect that all workers deserve as we fight for a green, just, and peaceful future. We are in this together. 

Together, the joint Union-Management goal for collective bargaining is: To engage in a process that advances the Greenpeace mission of environmental and racial justice, strengthens relationships between all staff, centers workers in support of the labor movement, and recognizes that the union is essential to Greenpeace’s contribution toward a more green and peaceful world.  

Our history of embedding justice

Of course, there have been many people who have worked tirelessly over the years to make Greenpeace a more just place to work, and we would do our history a disservice by not mentioning them. This rich history is driven by current and former colleagues including Damu Smith and Njoki Njehu who led Greenpeace US’ Toxics Campaign in the 1990s and were pioneers of the Environmental Justice movement. More recently, we have focused on shifting our culture through a number of changes in our policies, procedures, and hiring practices, nearly tripling the racial diversity of our staff in the last four years. Greenpeace US has also embraced a multiracial co-leadership model at both our board and executive levels with the appointment of Jakada Imani as our first Black board chair and with Ebony Twilley Martin as the first Black Co-Executive Director. These appointments reinforce our organizational commitment to diversity, equity, and justice; but as we know, this work is forever work and we must continue to work hard towards a better future. 

We align ourselves with the broader labor movement, we cultivate and strategically express our solidarity in order to forge stronger ties between the labor movement and the environmental movement.  It’s also undeniable that the experience of acting collectively with coworkers can deepen political consciousness, no matter one’s workplace or prior political commitments.

This is just the beginning. We are in the middle of our first Contract Bargaining. A beautiful process that will create a foundation for so many Greenpeace workers to come. With each year we will build a stronger foundation, build more power until you won’t be able to imagine a time where Greenpeace didn’t have a union. Not just for Greenpeace, not just for the environmental sector, but for all of us. 

This essay is part of our Perspectives: Our Next Fifty Years series, in which we reflect briefly on our first fifty years, but more importantly, we lay out the future we are building together—collaborative, ambitious, and intersectional. The work ahead won’t be easy, but we’ve never shied away from hard work. We continue to push for policies that recognize the contributions and leadership of marginalized groups, and we amplify their voices, looking to their wisdom to show us the way. We hold corporations accountable, demanding real action that puts people ahead of profit. We work each day with our partners to co-create green, safe planet for all beings. We recognize that equality is not necessarily justice. We demand more from our leaders, from our colleagues, and from ourselves. A green and peaceful world isn’t just a slogan—it is our mission, and it takes each one of us to get there.

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