The Southern Poverty Law Center, a far-left smear factory on the front lines of demonizing conservatives in American public discourse, is unwittingly revealing just how absurd the idea of unionizing nonprofits truly is.

Last month, the SPLC reportedly terminated about a quarter of its staff and reorganized many departments. The massive shift would inevitably ruffle some feathers, but the news would have been far less painful for the nonprofit had it not certified a contract with a labor union in 2022.

Yes, a nonprofit organization—where employees ostensibly work in order to benefit society—unionized, creating an adversarial relationship between workers and the nonprofit’s leadership. What could go wrong?

Quite a lot, it turns out.

First, the SPLC Union went public with the news before the Southern Poverty Law Center could craft its own messaging strategy. The union painted the layoffs in the worst possible light, highlighting the SPLC’s “F” rating from CharityWatch and suggesting the SPLC was engaging in “union busting.”

“This is designed to punish union activists and intimidate employees just as we saw when Mercedes-Benz fired union organizers in Vance, Alabama,” the SPLC Union posted on X. “Management’s goals here are clear, but they will not win. Our union is strong.”

The union went on to release screenshots of a discussion between SPLC board members and SPLC President Margaret Huang, in which they complained about “hostile” questions from staff during a question-and-answer session in March 2024. The union went on to claim that “only 44% of the staff have confidence” in Huang’s leadership and “only 33% of staff believe senior leadership cares about them.”

The SPLC Union launched a petition demanding that the Southern Poverty Law Center reverse the layoffs. As of Tuesday, the petition had gathered more than 9,000 signatures.

Why Does SPLC Have a Union?

As I wrote in my book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the SPLC fired its co-founder and its president stepped down in 2019 amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal. Amid that fallout, a former employee called the SPLC’s premier product—a “hate map” that plots mainstream conservative and Christian groups alongside Ku Klux Klan chapters—a “highly profitable scam,” and employees gathered to form a union.

The National Labor Relations Board certified the union in December 2019 after employees voted 145-42 to unionize under the Baltimore-Washington News Guild. The new union and the SPLC signed a collective bargaining agreement in July 2022.

The Problems With Unions Today

The Left has recently attempted to revive the image of labor unions, which once provided real value by securing basic expectations for employment. Limiting the workweek to 40 hours and securing vacation, sick leave, and other benefits helped workers in concrete ways that reverberate today. However, labor unions have long overplayed their hand, becoming corrupt organs of the Democratic Party.

Today, workers rights advocates have to fight to give workers the right to opt out of union representation. In many sectors of the economy, workers are expected to join unions, which take a cut out of every paycheck without providing much in the way of concrete services to employees. Worse, unions direct large amounts of cash to political causes many members disagree with.

The 2018 Supreme Court case Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees is instructive. In that case, Illinois child support staffer Mark Janus refused to join the local union, AFSCME Council 31.

Despite not being a member of the union, Janus still had to pay “agency fees,” on the theory that since he benefits from the union’s bargaining, he should chip in to support the union. These agency fees could not be used for political causes, but AFSCME Council 31 dedicated $268,855 of the fees to promoting Democrat Hillary Clinton for president at the union’s 2016 convention.

Janus objected, saying he was “forced to support a government union as a condition of employment.” He called this “a gross violation of my First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association.”

The Supreme Court agreed, 5-4.

“States and public-sector unions may no longer exact agency fees from nonconsenting employees,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion. “Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning. Compelling a person to subsidize the speech of other private speakers raises similar First Amendment concerns.”

Although the high court rightly struck down mandatory “agency fees,” unions still use complicated opt-out systems to trap employees into paying.

For example, an Ohio teacher’s assistant sued her former union and her school district because the district withheld union dues from her paycheck after she left the union and formally asked it to cease taking her money. The union claimed her request came outside of a 10-day opt-out window.

Many unions direct large amounts of cash to Democratic candidates and left-wing causes, often redirecting the dues of employees who might object, for example, to funding Planned Parenthood.

Unions lost ground in the 1980s onward, with large losses in the private sector. The right-to-work movement helps prevent unions from forcing employees to support causes they disagree with, and it grew in the 2010s after making significant gains in the 1980s. In February, Michigan repealed its right-to-work law, which initially passed in 2012.

Public Sector Unions

Unions lost ground in the private sector but held on in the public, or government, sector. Even Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president who largely created the modern administrative state in his “New Deal,” initially opposed public-sector unions as inherently problematic.

“The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations,” Roosevelt wrote. “The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.”

Any negotiation with a public employee union would constitute a loss of the people’s authority, the founder of the New Deal said.

Roosevelt considered strikes by public unions “unthinkable and intolerable” because they cause “the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it.”

SPLC’s Nonprofit Union

The idea of nonprofit unions suffers from a similar inherent tension. As in the case of the government, the ultimate employer of a nonprofit employee is the donor who contributes to the organization, not the organization’s management. Nonprofits must honor donor intent, and workers can’t bargain with donors to demand that they contribute more to charity.

Nonprofits exist for charitable purposes, not to earn money for shareholders. If a union publicly complains about “management,” it may undermine the nonprofit’s ability to honor donor intent and advocate the causes it exists to promote.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s layoffs highlight the leftist group’s internal divisions. The SPLC Union noted that questions in the March question-and-answer session involved “support for Palestine,” a divisive issue at the SPLC.

After Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, the SPLC declined to publicly comment, only speaking out three weeks later, on Oct. 29. When the SPLC did deign to comment, it falsely blamed Israel for having “targeted” Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including children.

Before the SPLC spoke out, the union released an aggressive statement condemning Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks as “the violent imperialist desecration of a people—the beginnings of a genocide.”

On the same day the SPLC Union released its statement, an SPLC lawyer’s name appeared in an online chat organizing an anti-Israel sit-in at a congressional office building.

The SPLC seems caught between a rock and a Hamas place—straddling the gulf between young, anti-Israel activists on staff and old-style Democratic donors, who likely support Israel. No wonder Huang felt flustered when questioned about the Israel-Hamas war.

Whatever turmoil the SPLC is facing, the union is making it far worse. Hopefully, this latest scandal will further delegitimize an organization that routinely defames mainstream conservatives and Christians.

It couldn’t happen to nicer people.