Democrats unionizing their campaigns

  • 15 February 2018
  • NormanL
What could possibly go wrong?

It's no secret that Democrats depend on union manpower and money for their campaigns. But what happens when those Democratic campaign workers decide to unionize? Bloomberg News gives us some answers:

Several Democratic congressional campaigns have agreed to bargain collectively with the Campaign Workers Guild, a new union trying to organize election campaign staff in what may be a first for national politics.

The CWG announced Monday that it had secured a union contract with the campaign of Wisconsin activist Randy Bryce, the leading Democratic challenger to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan in this year’s midterm elections.

Campaign staffers are the latest professional targets for labor organizers. While overall U.S. unionization remained at a record-low 10.7 percent, last year saw membership in the overwhelmingly non-union professional and technical services sector grow by close to 90,000 members, bringing the total number of unionized American workers to 14.8 million, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The CWG’s effort is a first for congressional campaigns, which are staffed largely by contract and short-term workers operating in what are often high-pressure work environments.

“There’s no question that it’s exploitative work,” said Rutgers University labor studies professor Janice Fine, who’s worked on local and national election campaigns. “It’s premised on the idea that young people will work 24-7 in a selfless -- and often dangerously selfless -- way, and that culture has been passed on for generations.”

Among the issues the union said it seeks to take on are hours that approach eighty per week and wages that are below $15 an hour.

Under the agreement with Bryce’s campaign, workers will get paid time off and earn at least $3,000 per month. The negotiated contract covers eight employees and includes a third-party reporting process for sexual harassment and monthly health insurance reimbursement of up to $500, the campaign said. “Randy is a candidate who practices what he preaches,” said Bryce spokeswoman Lauren Hitt.

Additional House campaigns and one gubernatorial campaign have also recognized the CWG and are negotiating contracts, according to the union’s vice president, Meg Reilly. “We’re starting with Democratic candidates because there’s obviously an explicit disconnect between the Democratic platform and how Democratic candidates treat their workers,” she said. She declined to identify the other campaigns citing ongoing negotiations.

For anyone who has worked on a campaign, the long hours, dicey conditions, terrible pay, and more are part of the territory. And our unpopular opinion: all of that is what makes campaigns both memorable and even fun.

But we get why some may think the conditions border on exploitation...because they do. That's the point. Campaigns are not in the business of providing benefits and paid vacations. They are (or at least should be) focused on electing the candidate. 

While we won't stand in the way of Democrats bowing to union demands, we are forced to wonder whether they have really thought this through. The more they spend on staff, the less they are able to spend on items like voter contact, persuasion ads, mailings, and so on. In other words, the stuff that actually gets a candidate elected.

Obviously not. Or they have decided to drop the pretense of running grass roots campaigns entirely, and are embracing economic illiteracy for all to see.