Among the most exploited workers in the United States are campaign staffers. They work incredibly long hours and are expected to sacrifice for the greater good like no other workers in the U.S., except perhaps another, ironically, exploited group of workers–union organizers. This exploitation leads to other forms of harassment and exploitation, including beratings and sexual harassment. There are many problems with this model, but since most people don’t think of campaign staffers as workers, they don’t receive much attention. That’s beginning to change and quite a few politicos, including Democrats, don’t like it.
Many political campaign workers spend long hours at low pay, living off of pizza and coffee, all in the hope of seeing their candidate win.
Now, labor organizers are setting their signs bringing those workers into the labor movement at a time when the percentage of U.S. workers who belong to a union is falling steadily.
The newly formed Campaign Workers Guild claims to have helped organize at least a dozen Democratic campaigns and one political consulting firm.
“It’s been far too long that workers in this industry have been exploited. And now we’re finally standing together to put an end to that,” said Ihaab Syed, the union’s secretary.
One of those campaigns is Erin Murphy’s, a Democrat running for governor in Minnesota, the first gubernatorial campaign in the country to unionize.
Aisha Chughtai a field organizer for Murphy, says the job is demanding and doesn’t lend itself to a nine-to-five shift. But ever since signing on with the Campaign Workers Guild, she’s minding her schedule a bit more closely.
“Now I get a day off every single week where I am not allowed to be in the office. I’m not supposed to be working. And I don’t. It’s great.”
Chughtai is one of six full-time employees on Murphy’s campaign who formed the union last month.
Worker empowerment, Chughtai says, not job dissatisfaction, motivated the unionization drive. “I think we should break down the idea that unions are only useful to go after bad bosses.”
Brief, cordial talks with the campaign manager resulted in a first contract. There’s a base wage of $21 an hour with paid sick time and health benefits that now include dental and vision coverage. Harassment guidelines are spelled out. Members pay $30 a month in dues.
This is great. But:
“A political campaign is different. It’s a cause,” said Steve Hildebrand, who spent 26 years managing campaigns, including serving as deputy national campaign manager for Barack Obama’s successful presidential bid in 2008.
While Hildebrand says he embraces the goal of assuring workplace dignity and proper compensation, “Political campaigns are short-term gigs. They’re not long-term operations, so this idea of unionization for an eight-month job, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
While Hildebrand is now out of the campaign business and runs a cafe in South Dakota, he’s concerned the 2020 presidential campaign will be the next frontier for union organizers.
“Going into the general election if you have a campaign team that is not putting in 80 hours a week on the Democratic side, you’re probably going to lose.”
While unionizing campaign workers may be a short-term boost for organized labor but long-term, Hildebrand says it could weaken unions further.
This guy’s argument is that a unionized campaign staff will lead to campaign workers actually sleeping and having time to do their laundry and thus Republicans will win and bust unions more. With friends like these, who needs enemies! The logic is also silly. There are lots of short-term workers that have unionized. Let me outsource this point:
Buildings are short-term gigs so doesn't make sense to allow unionization.
Making movie is short-term gig so doesn't make sense to allow unionization.
Adjunct teaching jobs are short-term gigs so doesn't make sense to allow unionizationpic.twitter.com/OhuSumjHyE
— Nathan Newman (@nathansnewman) April 22, 2018
What should happen is that all Democrats should have to accept a unionized campaign staff in order to receive funding from progressive groups. There needs to be a sort of hiring hall, where campaign staffers are plucked from the union shop. And if you want to be a campaign staffer, you have to join the union first. If Democratic candidates are not willing to have unionized campaign staff, I don’t see why I would trust them to fight for the rights of unions once they win office. This is the kind of litmus test that really makes sense for progressive groups. Good on these staffers and good on the few candidates who have embraced this so far. If you don’t like a unionized staff, just go run as a Republican. You hold the same basic values.
— Brett Banditelli (@banditelli) April 22, 2018