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Campaign workers now have their own labor organization and some consultants on the left say it could be a good thing for practitioners across the industry to embrace.
Backers of the newly formed Campaign Workers Guild (CWG) say it could help alleviate workplace issues that have plagued the industry for years. To wit, staffers up from organizer to regional to manager have long worked in less than ideal circumstances.
For those on under-funded races, the pay is assuredly low. On any race, the hours are gruelingly long and the benefits, well, they’re usually slim to none — particularly healthcare coverage.
“It’s a huge concern, especially if folks don’t qualify for the Obamacare protections,” Laura Reimers, president of CWG, told C&E.
Reimers said the group’s first organizing success — forming a bargaining unit on Wisconsin Democrat Randy Bryce’s campaign — achieved a larger healthcare stipend for workers and enhanced sexual harassment reporting policies. “We’re establishing contracts,” she added.
CWG is actively negotiating with two other congressionals and a gubernatorial, said Reimers, although she declined to name the races. The organization is seeking voluntary recognition for its bargaining units rather than National Labor Relations Board recognition, which requires additional steps.
For workers on a campaign to get CWG representation, a majority need to sign an authorization card and then go to the race’s management to seek voluntary recognition. “Any campaign worker” can join, said Reimers, an activist who has worked field on two Illinois congressionals. “We’re going campaign by campaign.”
She said the group started to form in late 2016 and early 2017 after staffers who worked for candidates campaigning for issues like a living wage felt denied the benefit they were working hard to bestow on others.
Despite the potential drawbacks of negotiating with staffers over sensitive employment issues during the short window a campaign exists, consultants say there are benefits to signing on with CWG. Beyond the improved conditions the workers may receive, the obvious plus is the positive press that signing onto to a guild agreement could generate, as was the case for Bryce.
An added benefit is that, in the long run, a union-type organization like CWG could help diversify the campaign industry by allowing workers of color to land entry level positions on which they can earn a living wage.
“A campaign workers union or association could be an influential organization that makes campaigns walk the walk and bring real economic and racial diversity to campaign staff,” said Reed Millar, a grassroots consultant. “That said, the hope would be that this leads to some shift of resources from advertising to grassroots organizing, both online and off.”
Adriel Hampton, who consultants for progressive challengers, said the move was a long time coming.
"Campaigns spend billions on media and pricey consultants - it's way past time that the folks who man the phones and work the field have $15 and a union,” he said. “There's no benefit to running staff ragged, and I hope the CWG is successful in improving working conditions, training, and career longevity of campaign staffers.”
Others in the industry feel the same way. An online letter in support of CWG garnered more than 300 signatures within 24 hours of being launched.