Democratic field organizers in Ohio working roughly 60-84 hours hours a week are fighting their own state party as they attempt to negotiate a fair union contract.
More than a month ago, the Ohio Democratic Party, with 90 percent support, recognized a union of coordinated campaign staff that collectively bargained with the help of the Campaign Workers Guild. Now, however, staffers say the party isn’t holding up its end of the bargain.
“After several day-long bargaining sessions, the ODP has made it clear to us that they are not serious about negotiating a fair contract that lives up to our Democratic values,” union leaders wrote last week in a letter to Ohio county party chairs across the state.
“We were so excited to see our party stand for working people by ultimately recognizing our union,” they continued. “Unfortunately, this excitement has not held at the bargaining table, where we’ve been continually disappointed and angered as the ODP has refused to present proposals that ensure us the union protections and provide us the working conditions we need and deserve.”
While the negotiations are still ongoing and a bit rough at the moment, it is still extremely early in the negotiation process. The party only recognized the union five weeks ago and most contract negotiations take months.
In a statement emailed to ThinkProgress, Ohio Democratic Party leaders are generally optimistic that the state will become the first to unionize a political party.
“Consistent with our long record of fighting for workers’ rights, the Ohio Democratic Party is proud to be the first state party in the nation to recognize the Campaign Workers Guild representing our campaign field organizers.
We believe their representation is an important step nationally. Because this is the first contract of its type in the nation, there are many details to work through. But in only four weeks, negotiations over the contract itself have led to agreement on half the points of negotiation, and we’ve made progress on many others.
The good news is that while negotiations are ongoing, we and our growing team of organizers are out knocking on the doors and making the phone calls that will elect our strong ticket of candidates up and down the ballot.”
Members of the union, however, claim that instead of meeting with the union face-to-face, as is customary in any contract negotiation, party officials hired lawyers from a law firm that specializes in “union-avoidance” to represent management in the negotiation process. The lawyers work at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, a firm named in part by the Taft-Hartley Act, a federal law that significantly diminished the power of unions.
According to ODP party officials, however, the Ohio Democratic Party Operations Director has been in attendance and at every negotiation session, and ODP Executive Director Greg Beswick attended the full first session of negotiations.
“I think the party initially just assumed that we wanted to be a union because that’s what Democrats do, but they quickly realized that we aren’t messing around and really we want rights and we really do want to protect our workers,” Jake McClelland, a field organizer with the Ohio Democratic Party and a lead organizer with Campaign Workers Guild told ThinkProgress.
“Their actions run counter to the supposed values of the Democratic party,” he added.
For a party that has stood by and taken money from organized labor, this presents a real problem for Ohio Democrats — especially with Election Day just three months away.
Among the union’s requests are basic items, such as guaranteed water and stationary supplies in the office. They’ve also requested bigger-picture things, like a living wage.
According to the party, they have agreed to half of the union’s demands, including smaller requests like water, rest and meal periods, paid leave, and even health insurance for field organizers, the ODP has refused to meet the union’s expectations when it comes to issues like compensation and mileage reimbursement.
That last point is critical for McClelland, who over the course of the campaign has put in some 10,000 miles on his car, driving around the state for work. Currently, organizers get a $150 gas card to help offset the cost, but McClelland says that is nowhere near enough.
“Over the course of the campaign…I’ve used about $500 dollars worth of gas cards. If I got a true reimbursement, that number would be more like $5,000, which would help immensely with things like the three oil changes I had to pay for or new tires and brake lines,” he said.
When the union raised this issue to management in a survey, the ODP dismissed it, according to organizers.
“We showed them the survey about cars and everything and their response was ‘yes we got your survey and we weren’t moved by it,'” they said.
ODP instead countered with a $125 car stipend, which is lower than what staffers currently receive with the gas card.
As far as compensation goes, the union requested a salary floor of $4,000/month for field organizers and $4,500/month for regional field directors, which is what the union claims staffers at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) are paid. Ohio DCCC field organizers, however, only make roughly $2,700/month, according to party leaders.
Instead, according to the union, the state party has offered a salary schedule of $12.25 per hour, less than the $15 minimum wage on which most Democrats, including Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, have campaigned for.
The Ohio Democratic Party currently provides their workers with a salary floor of $3,000 including benefits, which is what the Campaign Workers Guild has negotiated at other campaigns.
“Right now, half of our money money goes towards bills and the other half goes to gas or eating fast food because we cant afford anything else,” McClelland said. “We’re not asking for the world here. We’re asking to be treated fairly as workers and to not have to pay to work.”
Some staffers are concerned that some of Ohio’s most ardent pro-labor Democrats including Brown and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Richard Cordray, haven’t involved themselves personally in the issue.
“The candidates are nonexistent,” McClelland told ThinkProgress. “We as workers feel they are complicit in this […]. Our candidates are supposed to be labor-friendly.”
When reached for comment, Sen. Brown voiced his support for the campaign workers and their efforts to unionize, urging the party to resolve negotiations soon.
“All workers have the right to organize and bargain for their wages and benefits. I admire these young staffers for unionizing and speaking up, and I hope the negotiations are resolved soon,” Brown told ThinkProgress.
Several Democratic campaigns across the nation have decided to unionize since December 2017, when the workers for Randy Bryce, the Democrat vying for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) open seat, became the first bargaining unit to join the Campaign Workers Guild. Since then, workers from 22 campaigns have unionized.
This article has been updated with additional information from the Ohio Democratic Party and comment from Sen. Sherrod Brown.