Employees of the nonprofit service organization Preble Street, which operates Portland’s Preble Street Resource Center, have voted overwhelmingly to unionize.

Employees cited low wages and high employee turnover as reasons for voting 90-11 to form a union that will be represented by the Maine State Employees Association – Service Workers International Union Local 1989.

“In recent years, there has been high employee turnover in the organization as workers have become burned out and found better paying jobs elsewhere,” the Maine AFL-CIO labor organization said in a news release on Friday. “Clients suffer when there is high turnover.  While Preble Street employees say the work is rewarding, it is also difficult, and front-line workers, particularly per diem employees, are underpaid.”

Preble Street serves homeless and low-income Mainers at the organization’s drop-in centers, soup kitchens, food pantry and shelters in Portland, Lewiston and Bangor. The organization was founded in 1990.

Employee Philippa Adam, who works in the food program at Preble Street, said she and fellow organizers were thrilled with the employees’ overwhelming show of support for a union.

“Now we will finally have the collective strength to secure better wages and improve management’s support and communication so that we can do our jobs better,” Adam said. “By getting a seat at the table, we believe that we can make this organization stronger and we are looking forward to starting a new chapter that benefits us as workers, our clients and the communities that we serve.”

According to Preble Street’s most recent available Form 990 financial disclosure, it generated revenue of $13 million in 2017, primarily through private contributions and grants. It had expenses of $12.8 million, including $7.9 million for employee wages and benefits, leaving an operating balance for the year of under $200,000.

The organization ended 2017 with net assets and fund balances of $12.4 million, up from $11.8 million the previous year, according to the disclosure document.

Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swann issued a written statement Friday in response to the union vote.

“We honor the decision made to collectively bargain and the new process and partnership it represents,” he said. “We want everyone at Preble Street to feel supported and secure and will be working together to look at how this new model can help build positive change for staff and for the clients who receive services at Preble Street.”

Portland officials have suggested that Preble Street’s flagship resource center at 5 Portland St., which has been providing basic necessities and services to the city’s homeless and low-income populations for the past 16 years, may be taken over by the city in the coming months.

In April, City Manager Jon Jennings said he was told by Swann that the resource center could wind down operations as soon as this fall, and that the city is considering leasing the space as a way to preserve overnight overflow space for the city-run Oxford Street Shelter.

Jennings’ comment prompted a public response from Herb Janick, president of the Preble Street Board of Directors, who wrote in a letter to the editor published in the Portland Press Herald that Jennings had misrepresented the center’s plans for the future, that that no decision had been made to wind down its operations.

Janick’s letter prompted its own response from Sarah Michniewicz, president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, who said in a follow-up letter to the editor that she had personally sat in on a meeting in which Swann openly discussed plans to close the center.