Project Wonderful

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Campaign Workers Guild: Your Questions Answered!

Randy Bryce's campaign was the union-ization heard 'round the campaign world. As soon as this article was published, questions about Campaign Workers Guild came flooding in. As an 11 (gulp) year veteran of electoral politics I had seen efforts to unionize campaign staff come and go but never catch fire like this. I had the same questions that many of you did: how would this work? Would this hinder the way we do politics?

When you've been part of a system for so long it's hard to accept that there's a better way of doing things. Ultimately, however, I fell in love with the idea. CampaignSick is based on a firm belief that working on political campaigns is a skilled and specialized profession and one that is worthy of respect. So doesn't it follow that we are also worthy of the same protections we fight for for other workers? In addition to fair wages and reasonable work hours, I was especially happy to see that Campaign Workers Guild advocates for a redress system for sexual harassment--an issue that has long been ignored and is just now coming to light in our community.

I am so freaking excited to share this post with you. And based on tweets and messages I know you are excited to read it! Thank you Griff Hibbard-Curto and the rest of the organizers at Campaign Workers Guild for taking the time to tell us more about this exciting movement!

What is Campaign Workers Guild? Who are you as an organization? How did this come about? Why is it necessary?
Campaign Workers Guild is a national union for campaign workers. We are composed of active and former campaign staffers, and we organize non-management campaign staff on electoral and issue campaigns. CWG is necessary because the typical working conditions found on campaigns make it an unsustainable field to remain in for long, and we believe not only that campaign workers deserve better working conditions, we think that campaigns and movements will thrive when they take care of the people fueling them. Too often, staffers are not afforded the quality of life that they organize for, and are expected to work 80+ hour work weeks, shoulder campaign expenses with no hope of reimbursement, and have no protections from sexual harassment, discrimination, or being laid off on a moment’s notice.

Who are YOU (the individuals behind CWG)? Are you full-time employees of the organization?
There are currently no employees of CWG, our membership and leadership is completely made up of volunteers. We are a mix of current campaign workers and past campaign workers, some of whom currently work in the labor movement. I’m an at-large member of the Executive Council, which governs the union.

Who can be a member and what does that entail?
Any current or former campaign worker (so not just field! Digital, data, comms, etc) who likes what they see in our letter can sign on to become a member. We also welcome allys, candidates, activists, volunteers, and elected officials to sign on in support of our message and our movement. In order to be a member of a bargaining unit on a campaign, you need to be an employee, not a contractor or 1099.

How is CWG similar to and different from a traditional union?
CWG is similar to traditional unions in that we are bargaining for workers and attempting to provide basic protections in their workplaces. In terms of structure, we’re fairly similar to the actors or writers guilds. We’re different because of the nature of our work - campaigns are transient, and workers routinely hop around the country moving from race to race. Because of this, it’s fairly unlikely a campaign worker who stays in the field will be able to stay in the same area for more than a few years. It’s definitely a different type of union, and we’re really excited that we’re able to tailor our union to fit our unique needs.

This isn't the first attempt to unionize campaign staff. Why do you think you're seeing success where others haven’t?
Recent changes in our body politic have split the Democratic party and the nation as a whole with those who are comfortable maintaining the status quo, and those of us who are unable to sit by and watch things stay the same. Since 2008, Democrats have lost over 1,000 state and federal elected positions, including many governorships and the presidency. In 2018, folks are realizing that we have to walk the talk; rhetoric is not enough. The workers we talk to are just plain fed up. We’re seeing enormous amounts of interest in the CWG — for many, it’s because they’re sick of the candidate they work for stumping about a living wage and healthcare when they earn $2000/month to work 80 hours per week. We’ve been organizing this for a while, but the recent #metoo movement has brought broader awareness to the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault, regardless of workplace.

A friend sent me an article about CWG with the comment "Oh, great. So now we're going to unilaterally disarm." What do you say to critics who say that unionizing will make Dem campaigns less competitive?
First off, our goal isn’t to make campaigns more competitive. Our goal is to protect workers. We are non-partisan. And here’s the thing: if a candidate can’t afford to pay their staff a living wage while campaigning for a $15 minimum then sorry, they shouldn’t have staff. We are completely fed up with candidates and parties talking the talk and not walking the walk. Although we’re fighting for the workers, not the campaign or party, there’s no denying that in our current organizing climate, workers typically burn out after a cycle or two, tops, which means that when big moments like 2016 roll along, campaigns have to start fresh with brand new organizers. We believe in calling campaign work what it is: skilled labor. Campaign work will be more sustainable when we protect workers, and talented, experienced organizers will be able to stay in Democratic politics for the long run. Instead of having to worry about where to find health care, how to recover from workplace abuses, sleep deprivation, and a grueling work schedule, organizers will be able to focus on organizing their campaigns to the best of their ability.

I find on campaigns there's a fair amount of "when I was an organizer I had to walk uphill in the snow both ways." Have you gotten pushback of that nature and if so how do you respond?
Of course there are those who will speak up to turn the spotlight on themselves and the hardships they’ve endured doing this work in the past. We get it. The “I paid my dues, it isn’t fair if you don’t have to” is not an unusual mentality. We certainly hope that those folks recognize that we are organizing because of them, not in spite of them. We want to make the career track sustainable for everyone who has the passion, skill, and desire to get involved in progressive politics. Our collective struggle in the past is what has motivated the organization of CWG and the progress we’ve made so far, and those tough stories will continue to fuel us moving forward.

I get a lot of questions on my blog about what the prevailing wage for organizers and other campaign roles is/should be. Do you have a stance on that?
When we bargain with campaigns, we establish a minimum salary requirement for organizers that is more in line with the value of the work they provide their campaigns. Since the contract comes from what the actual workers want, it really depends on how they feel. Workers know their own campaign and its finances best. We definitely believe no candidate should be campaigning for wages or benefits that they don’t even give to their own staff.

Is there a danger that if FO's unionize they will be replaced by volunteers?
Anyone with campaign experience is both acutely aware of the awesome power of volunteers and also knows that field organizers are held to a much higher standard. Organizers are responsible for building power in communities, bottom-lining event scheduling, volunteer training and recruitment, as well as a laundry list of miscellaneous campaign necessities. The responsibilities shouldered by organizers could sometimes be taken on by some stellar volunteers, but without the built-in demand for accountability that comes with employment, not to mention the training and skillsets built on several cycles of experience, there’s no way to compare the utility of a volunteer to an expert organizer.

Are you actively trying to organize campaigns or waiting for organizers to approach you? If the former, who are you targeting?
Both. There are a few campaigns that we are looking at organizing, based primarily off of conversations with their staffs. But the impetus of our organizing comes from the workers’ needs and demands, and we’ve seen a huge response from workers following our public launch, so we’re currently focusing on those campaigns whose workers have reached out to us directly.

If someone wants to organize their campaign what do they do?
Come to our website! We’ve made it easy to sign our letter, get in touch with us, get your staff members paying dues, and start the bargaining process.

Given the universe of people we are talking about, I can imagine the idea to unionize coming from a candidate or manager. What are your thoughts on that?
We’ve definitely seen some managers and candidates talk about getting associated with CWG and unionizing their campaigns. We want to remind and reinforce that our power, our bargaining agreements, and our voice comes directly from the workers. It’s great when candidates and managers want to voluntarily recognize their employees as a bargaining unit, but it’s critical that the organizing is coming directly from the workers. Again, we’re here for the workers.

What is your vision for the future? Do you see every Dem campaign unionizing and if so how quickly?
We know it’ll take time for our movement to proliferate and touch the majority of Democratic campaigns, but we’re seeing great growth already and anticipate many major campaigns joining our movement soon. Our goal is to get to multiple-employer contracts, or a contract with the whole Democratic Party (and other parties as well). We’d like there to be work standards in place, regardless of whether you’re working on a city council race or a presidential primary. We want the CWG to provide training to its members, and we’re also giving our members the chance to see job postings first before they’re posted elsewhere.

What else do you want us to know?
This is a movement. People have been abused on campaigns either directly or through the circumstances of their work. The problems have culminated to a point where we’re standing up and creating a union to protect ourselves and each other.

Again to learn more about Campaign Workers Guild visit

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