One of the strange trends in employment is the number of professional employees who are forming unions. It started in journalism, likely defending against layoffs as the industry experienced significant consolidation. Perhaps the newsroom members were able to negotiate severance packages for affected employees. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign staff formed a union in 2020. Now the DNC staff has become part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), an organization that usually represents service industry employees, not gender studies majors from Oberlin.
In the real world, jobs at the DNC, many non-profits, and even government agencies get reserved for the relatives of donors and political allies. Many of our venerable institutions of higher learning are turning out activists. This synergy is why the complex network of non-governmental organizations and bureaucratic agencies that drive our foreign and domestic policy will be challenging to dismantle. The ruling class sends their kids to the precise schools whose graduates fill the jobs in these organizations.
According to NBC, two-thirds of the DNC’s employees signed cards indicating they wanted a union election. Typically, if more than 50% of employees anonymously sign cards, an election is held and overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. Management and the union would have the opportunity to talk to employees and present their cases before the formal vote. The DNC skipped that step. They had a neutral third party count the cards, and with 67% of employees saying they were in favor, they welcomed the union in.
As it turns out, it looks like the union targeted the DNC for organizing. “We are incredibly excited to join SEIU Local 500 to live our Democratic values at our workplace,” said Alison Goh. NBC notes that Goh, a DNC staffer who worked for the SEIU, helped lead the union drive. The DNC hired an experienced union organizer as an employee. Goh’s last position at the union was working as Special Assistant to the Director of Organizing after spending several years in the field. It is not shocking that they joined the union Goh used to work for.
It appears it is all celebration inside the DNC, and Chair Jamie Harrison says he is proud to support the unionization effort. Management and staff even put out a joint statement asserting the process had been “collegial. efficient, and productive.” This statement clearly comes from a group that has not sat down to negotiate their first contract. It is also fair to assume most members of management within the DNC have no idea what they just signed up for.
For example, some young upstarts have come together to form the Campaign Workers Guild. Guilds used to denote a particular skill set, such as artisans, welders, and plumbers. They were a way to set prices and ensure a standard for training. The guilds are where apprenticeship programs were born. Not sure campaign work fits that description. However, the group’s goals are clear. From their website:
Every worker deserves fair wages, a sustainable career with reasonable hours, safe and healthy working conditions, and respect. Until we founded our union, campaign workers routinely worked more than twice the standard workweek for less than minimum wage and no healthcare benefits. We sacrificed our health, financial security, and leisure time to support candidates and movements that we hoped will make our society more prosperous, equitable, and inclusive, but our employers do not always live up to the values they often publicly espouse.
If the DNC thinks their new union will make fundamentally different demands from this one, they are sadly mistaken. The leadership has encouraged a bunch of young ideologues who believe they should be calling the shots. Anyone who thinks they can run effective campaigns without long hours during the season has never worked one. Perhaps management should return the young idealists to the leisure time that having a job “forced” them to sacrifice.
If you need further proof, another unionized left-wing organization, Slate, is going through contract negotiations. The union expects their cost of living increase to match inflation, higher pay for assistants, and salary minimums that allow writers to live comfortably in New York City and Washington, D.C. They also want overtime for professional podcast producers, permission to moonlight, and six months of paid maternity leave. Because left-wing organizations advocate for policies like a living wage and extensive family leave, the unions within them will demand them.
Let’s be honest. Most not-for-profits, political organizations, and smaller media outlets will not be able to afford the same salary and benefits packages as the automakers or tech giants. Part of the bargain is doing work you’re passionate about in exchange for less salary and fewer fringes. Apparently, no one had that conversation with the next generation. A continued trend of organizing will cost these organizations money or reputation points. It is hard to continue to advocate for policies you can’t afford, and folks under 30 know how to run a social media campaign that embarrasses their employer.
As NBC notes, Republican political campaigns and right-leaning organizations are not subjected to the same organizing efforts. Due to a different set of principles among leaders and organization members, chances are they won’t be. However, we can celebrate the burdens of the trend on the network of left-wing organizations that drive the media and policy decisions.