This is an opinion piece by Campaign Workers Guild Executive Board Member Aisha Naseem.
On November 7, 2018, the midterm elections will be over. Americans will have elected candidates filling thousands of offices across the country. Simultaneously, thousands of Democratic campaign workers will become unemployed. How campaigns operate is obscure to most people, so I’m going to spell it out. Every election cycle, campaigns hire thousands of staff, who will work for periods of weeks or months. They staff up at wildly high speeds that outpace even the fastest startup. These large campaigns onboard dozens of people, each with highly individual roles, responsibilities, and work assignments, in just a period of weeks.
From the second we hit the ground, we spend our days performing essential tasks for the campaign to function: making calls to potential volunteers, preparing materials to contact voters, coaching candidates through fundraising, training volunteer leaders, crafting campaign strategy, honing campaign messaging. Most of us are field organizers, who tend to be the lowest paid and hardest worked: these are the people who recruit and train the volunteers who knock on your door and call you on your phone. We work doggedly, with no space for other pursuits, our entire lives building toward election day. After that, we’re unemployed and back to the search. We move across the country, once again, in pursuit of campaigns we believe in.
We do this because we believe in the ability of electoral organizing to change the future of our country for the better. Now, we’re joining together united by another belief: we need a union. We spend the majority of our lives fighting for Democratic values such as economic, racial, environmental, and social justice. Now, we’re standing up for ourselves, and fighting for justice in our workplaces. And we’re clear on why we need it.
These situations aren’t only difficult: they’re dangerous, they’re costly, and for many of us, they make it impossible to stay in a profession we love.
Our employers ask us to move across the country, very quickly, with no relocation allowance. They often fail to offer us in health insurance, or offer a woefully insufficient health insurance stipend, making a troubling assumption that we’re likely to be under 26 and on a parent’s plan. They pay us salaries that amount to less than the minimum wage when accounting for the fact that we work upwards of 80 hours a week. They require us to have our own cars, and drive them into the ground, with no financial support except for the occasional gas gift card. They sometimes help us find housing, which comes in the form of bedrooms and basements opened up by willing volunteers, known as “supporter housing”; otherwise, we turn to Craigslist to undertake the often impossible task of finding safe, affordable, and easy short-term housing situations.
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They require us to work such long hours that basic tasks such as going to the grocery store, doing laundry, taking showers, receiving medical care, and getting adequate sleep become impossible to fit in. They require us to stay silent about sexual harassment by fellow staff or volunteers, because of insufficient processes and policies, fear of retaliation, or the expectation that we put the needs of the campaign -- maintaining pleasant relationships with volunteers -- over our own safety.
These situations aren’t only difficult: they’re dangerous, they’re costly, and for many of us, they make it impossible to stay in a profession we love. As individuals, it has been difficult to speak up about how much difficulty we’ve had at work, for risk of seeming weak, uncommitted, or unwilling to do the job. Now, as a collective, we’re realizing that this has been intolerable for all of us, and that we have to stand up for ourselves and our professions.
To be clear, while this work culture may allow campaigns to save money, and drag every minute of energy and productivity out of their staff, they are not good for the future of Democratic campaigns: many of the most talented and motivated among us burn out of the industry for better conditions. We are doing this for our own well-being at work, and we are also doing this for the future of our critical profession.
The Democratic candidates we work for position themselves as the champions of working people and organized labor. They pursue labor endorsements in the hope of harnessing union power to usher them into office. They go to great lengths to make sure the “union bug,” a small union logo, is proudly displayed on their t-shirts, yard signs, literature pieces, and buttons. At the same time, they employ non-union workers and impose substandard working conditions. That stops now.
Many of the most talented and motivated among us burn out of the industry for better conditions. We are doing this for our own well-being at work, and we are also doing this for the future of our critical profession.
Already, campaign workers with Randy Bryce for Congress have negotiated and ratified a collective bargaining agreement between their employer and their union, the Campaign Workers Guild. We are eager for Democratic campaigns to welcome new union members to the labor movement by recognizing and negotiating strong contracts with those of us who work in their own ranks. Will you join us?
Find out how to become a member, show your support, and spread the word for the Campaign Workers Guild .