A union for political campaign workers?

There’s a lot that’s unusual about a union agreement reached Nov. 30 in Woodburn, Oregon. It’s the first union contract covering political campaign workers in Oregon. It covers just three workers. And it was agreed to 10 days after they were laid off.

The contract is ostensibly between Oregon House Democrat Teresa Alonso Leon and a new union known as the Campaign Workers Guild. But union member Erin Delaney (Alonso Leon’s campaign manager) said ultimately it wasn’t Alonso Leon they were bargaining with, but FuturePAC, the political action committee for Oregon House Democrats. FuturePAC coordinates big campaign contributions, recruits campaign staff and matches them with candidates, hires pollsters and consultants, and draws up media plans.

Political campaign work is almost by definition seasonal. Campaign workers hire on in March of an election year, work crazy long hours in a race to the finish line, and then, win or lose, are laid off after the election.

Should they have a union? Workers at a number of Democratic campaigns around the country seem to think so. Since December 2017, Campaign Workers Guild says it has signed collective bargaining agreements with state party organizations in Minnesota, North Carolina, and Ohio, and with 23 individual political candidate campaigns. Seattle’s Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal is one of them.

Campaign Workers Guild isn’t affiliated with any other union, but it has enjoyed some union support. In Oregon, the Alonso Leon campaign bargaining sessions took place at the Woodburn offices of the farmworker organization PCUN, observed by activists from Portland Jobs with Justice, staff from several unions and by Communications Workers of America Local 7901 President Celeste Jones.

Campaign staff felt confident approaching Teresa Alonso Leon with the union idea because they believed she would be supportive: A former member of Service Employees International Union  Local 503, Alonso Leon is both a big supporter of unions and a big recipient of union backing.

Delaney hopes the agreement they worked out over five bargaining sessions will be a template for other political campaigns.  Though she declined to share details of the agreement, Delaney says it provides for severance equal to one month’s pay and health coverage, plus “win” bonuses. But more importantly, Delaney says, it will set some standards going forward: most notably a clear set of disciplinary and sexual harassment policies, guaranteed days off, and a cap of 55 hours a week except for the final month before the election. That last item is crucial, Delaney said, because it’s common for campaign staff to work as much as 80 hours a week.

“We hope it will be an industry standard,” Delaney told the Labor Press.

The agreement runs through April 1, 2020, so it would cover anyone hired when campaign starts up again in March — assuming she runs again for re-election.

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