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.
The CWG and its members are following the lead of progressive non-profits. Some of them, such as the Center for American Progress and Lambda Legal, have agreed to bargain collectively with their employees in recent years. Last fall, the Vermont Democratic Party, whose new executive director is a former union political director, voted to
collectively bargain with its staff, who have affiliated with the United Steelworkers Union.
CWG’s ultimate aim is a collective bargaining agreement that would cover all Democratic campaigns for local, state, and federal office and those for progressive ballot measures.
The Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn’t immediately provide comment in response to inquiries about the union. In a Monday evening post on Twitter, DNC Deputy Chair Keith Ellison, a Minnesota congressman, shared an open letter from the union and said, "The progressive movement needs to live up to its values. We have to treat our organizers with respect and dignity."
The Republican National Committee referred an inquiry to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which didn’t immediately respond. Ryan’s campaign declined to comment.
CWG’s Reilly said the national Democratic Party will ultimately benefit from campaign workers who don’t burn out and instead benefit from a sustainable career. “We’re simply fed up with that argument that we should sacrifice our health, our well-being, our time with our family, in order to placate the concerns of candidates,” she said.