D.N.C. Staff to Join Union, in a Milestone for Labor
Democratic National Committee staff are expected to be represented by a union, the first time a national party organization will have a unionized workforce, committee officials said on Tuesday.
About 150 committee employees will join the Service Employees International Union Local 500, a group that represents public sector workers in the District of Columbia and throughout Maryland. They agreed to unionize through what is called a card verification system: a majority of eligible DNC staff have signed cards by choosing to form a union. This type of organizing method is supported in the party platform, which calls for the recognition of unions that form through such systems.
“The DNC has the capacity to be a truly powerful agent of positive change for American workers, and we believe this is an opportunity for us to truly live those values,” said Christen Sparago, who manages monthly donors for the committee and helped lead the organizing efforts.
The push for organizing was supported by DNC executive director Sam Cornale and Mary Beth Cahill, senior advisor and former executive director of the committee.
The committee is currently negotiating details of which staff will be considered part of the union and who will be exempt – a group that is expected to include around 100 staff with managerial responsibilities. Positions on the committee range from low-level organizers to high-ranking managers who oversee social media, fundraising and messaging coordination efforts. After voluntary recognition by the management of the DNC, which is expected in the coming weeks, they will begin contractual negotiations.
“DNC employees are smart, diverse, resilient and inspiring, and I am honored to lead this team in our critical work to elect Democrats,” Mr. Cornale said. “As the DNC told SEIU, if a majority of DNC employees in a mutually agreed bargaining unit express their desire to form a union, we will be proud to voluntarily recognize that union.”
Democratic political organizations resumed their organizing campaign in 2019, during the party’s presidential primary. The efforts reflect both a changing sense of fair working conditions among young political staff and an influx of money into politics that has increased the ability of campaigns to deliver higher wages and more benefits.
In March 2019, Senator Bernie Sanders became the first presidential candidate from a major party to have unionized campaign staff. The presidential campaign workers of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, as well as Julián Castro, former housing secretary and mayor of San Antonio, have followed their own organizing efforts.
Last year, union organizers on the ground ratified a contract with Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign that included overtime pay, health insurance fully paid for by the campaign, a six-day work week, and a grievance procedure. Workers in several Democratic states, including Texas, have also organized.
For young political staff, unions offer certain protections when working on campaigns, which are notorious for long hours and sometimes toxic workplaces. Although unionized workers still work at the intense pace required of political organizations, they enjoy more protections. Often, however, the process of negotiating and ratifying a contract, which has taken months or even years, can take longer than the campaign itself.
For the candidates, unionization offers a way to prove their commitment to the labor movement while fighting for the support of the main unions and the votes of their grassroots members, who have turned to the Republicans in recent cycles.
But they can also lead to deadlocks between employees and campaign management which can expose internal tensions. The outcry over the unionization efforts of staff members of New York City mayoral candidate Dianne Morales led to a strike by campaign workers and the implosion of her campaign.
Unlike other political committees or campaigns, which lay off their staff at the end of the political cycle, the DNC has a more permanent workforce, which means that benefits such as parental leave, care health and vacation days are more standardized and open to negotiation. In recent campaign cycles, all staff have had the opportunity to keep their jobs.
“We have a very wide age range of staff who work on the committee,” Mx. Sparago said. “A lot of people who work here want to make a career out of it and have a sustainable infrastructure in their workplace. “
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