Living in Society

Organizing the Organizers

Rural Newport Precinct

The Democratic Party seems on the brink of descent into a primal ooze as we now debate political staffers forming unions in campaigns. What’s there to debate?

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg gets the overarching policy right. “Freedom means the ability to organize in order to hold employers accountable and advocate for fair pay,” according to his website.

To the extent political campaigns employ anyone, those employees have a right to organize. That said, the articles, discussion and posturing about unions and campaign organizers organizing a union are a distraction from the need to defeat Donald Trump, hold the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and gain a majority in the U.S. Senate.

I have some questions about organizing the organizers.


Suzan Erem, who has been a consultant to labor unions, recently posted on Facebook, “no self-respecting union organizes workers whose jobs have at best an 18-month shelf life.”

Either an individual campaign provides a living wage and acceptable working conditions for employees or the candidate suffers the consequences in a primary election. If workers organize a union, the candidate should be willing to sign a contract quickly and get on with the campaign. When there are grievances, they should be timely addressed.

It is important to remember pay and benefits are not what leads talented people to work on a political campaign. The question of organizers unionizing should be a self-motivator for Democratic candidates. Employees have the choice to organize and it should mostly be part of the background noise of a campaign. It should be a non-issue.


“An unnamed person has alleged to a federal agency that the union representing some employees of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign did not properly address a grievance,” Sean Sullivan wrote in the Washington Post. A dispute between a labor union (United Food and Commercial Workers in this case) and a represented member is never good. When it escalates to the National Labor Relations Board, lawyers get involved.

As Sanders and his staff spend time and resources on this NLRB case and resolving any other grievances with their union, the clock continues to tick toward the Iowa Caucus and the dozen states with primaries and caucuses on or before Super Tuesday. Managing labor, organized or not, will take bandwidth.

When the union appears to botch the process as suggested in Sullivan’s article, it is a burden on everyone involved. Some other priority will be neglected while time is spent on this grievance. News outlets may pick up on the NLRB case and neglect covering candidate policy.

To What End?

The period of employment for paid campaign workers is relatively brief. Anyone who has worked on a campaign knows a lot of hours are involved. If it’s too much, why wouldn’t an employee go to their supervisor and ask for relief. If they are not satisfied with the way it is addressed, move on to what is next. It’s not like campaign organizing is a permanent career even if one is still working at it after beginning in the 2008 cycle.

Organizing a union is not always a speedy process. In the meanwhile, the election is just around the corner, after which employment ends for the most part and any union becomes moot. If the campaign is successful there may be another job in Washington, D.C. If it is unionized it would be a separate bargaining unit.

Most working people have an opinion about unions. I do too, and mine is multi-faceted. Unions have good intentions yet outcomes for rank and file members vary in efficacy. During a presidential campaign, especially during the primary/caucus portion of it, the main organizing has to be getting enough votes to get the candidate to the next stage whether it’s winning the primary or the general election. Organizing a union has to be done quickly and efficiently or it becomes a distraction.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa