Are Campaign Volunteers Scabs? And 7 Other Questions About the World’s First Unionized Campaign

Randy Bryce
Randy Bryce / Getty Images
• February 14, 2018 10:10 am


Mustachioed steelworker Randy Bryce has electrified liberals eager to dethrone Speaker of the House Paul Ryan with his tell-it-like-it-is blue collar style and, well, his mustache. He bolstered his credentials on both fronts Monday when he became the first political candidate with a unionized staff, a move made all the more groundbreaking because he did it while sporting a mustache.

When Bryce announced that eight campaign staffers would join the ranks of the fledgling Campaign Workers Guild (CWG), liberal blogs could not hold back their excitement that a former union organizer would allow his employees to join a union.

"Randy Bryce's Campaign Is Not Just Pro-Union—It's Unionized," declared The Nation.

"Why The First Unionized Political Campaign Is A Game-Changer For The Left," cooed the newly unionized Huffington Post.

Bryce's open embrace of unionization helped him avoid the hypocrisy charges that dogged the likes of Salon, David Brock's Media Matters, and the Huffington Post, which were accused of resisting workers' demands for unions as well as bargaining in bad faith. The guild's success with the Democratic Party's most viral midterm candidate earned a shout out from fellow rising star DNC deputy chair Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), which bodes well for its quest to organize all Democratic campaigns.

Bryce's historic decision, however, raises a number of questions about how a unionized campaign staff will function in a labor environment designed to protect steelworkers and skilled tradesman, rather than people whose job hazards begin at knocking-induced hand cramping and end at "fundraising at Harvey Weinstein's apartment" or "posing for a photo with Al Franken." Neither the CWG nor Bryce returned requests for comment, so the Washington Free Beacon consulted with numerous labor lawyers and experts to help break down the potential bumps Bryce may encounter.

1. Are campaign volunteers just enthusiastic scabs?

Political campaigns rely on the enthusiasms and dedication of tens of thousands of unpaid volunteers and college students whose degrees left them with zero marketable skills to get out the vote and work the phone bank. Would such practices violate the collective bargaining agreement by undermining the roles of union members on the campaign? If another union sends activists to volunteer, does that make them union scabs? As of Tuesday evening, Bryce's website still solicits unpaid workers to secure "fair pay and good jobs" for Wisconsinites.

2. Would Bryce's bargaining unit include all of his robot followers?

Bryce granted his staffers union recognition rather than call for a secret-ballot election, sparing himself the thorny issue of unit determination. If he opted for a secret ballot election, Bryce and CWG would have gone back and forth about whether his living human followers would vote alongside all of his pretend followers on social media, who have helped turn "@IronStache" into a household name in Berkley and Beverly Hills. Bryce's reliance on automation and unpaid labor could move him into Jeff Bezos territory if he does not navigate this correctly.

3. What are the FEC implications regarding contributions from union members?

Political runs famously make for late nights between debate preparations, election nights, and Kiwanis Club meet-and-greets. Will a unionized staffer have to classify overtime or any tasks outside of his specialty as an in-kind contribution to the campaign? Would contract concessions fall into the same category?

4. Can the CWG prevent Bryce from dropping out if terminating the campaign is viewed as a retaliatory gesture?

Energy Secretary Rick Perry dropped his 2016 bid for the Oval Office after running out of money. Could a unionized staff have prevented this from happening by filing unfair labor practice complaints to the National Labor Relations Board, arguing, say, retaliation? Will Bryce be forced to maintain his campaign past election day just to avoid retaliation charges from his staffers?

5. If he endorses another nominee with a non-union staff has he effectively outsourced the campaign?

No union worth its salt would stand by and let its members get taken advantage of by getting folded into a non-union shop. Bryce has raised $2.6 million for his campaign—with merely $57,000 coming from organized labor—and has $1.3 million cash on hand to pay his eight employees. His primary opponent, Janesville school board member Cathy Myers, has $106,626 to her name. Would she be able to afford merging CWG's bargaining unit into her campaign if she wins the Democratic nomination?

6. If Bryce runs for election again in 2020, would workers from 2018 be entitled to preferential hiring based on their seniority?

And for that matter, if money does run dry, will firing be merit-based, need-based, or by seniority? Job security is hard to come by on the campaign trail. Just ask Corey Lewandowski.

7. If Bryce is successful, will he become the first congressman to hire unionized staffers?

Congress allows workers on Capitol Hill to unionize, but no organizing effort has ever succeeded. If Bryce brings the Guild to Washington, he will have to navigate between taxpayer-funded Washington Business and donor-supported campaign work. Will the CWG have to open up a new chapter to help Bryce avoid potential ethics violations?

8. What are dues and initiation fees for the new members?

The public terms of the contract show that the eight employees will receive 1 percent raises, a minimum monthly salary of $3,000, $275 monthly health care reimbursements, and a third-party grievance process if any staffer has to attend a Harvey Weinstein fundraiser or pose for a photo with Al Franken. The campaign did not say how much those workers would pay in dues and initiation fees to the CWG.

Published under: Paul Ryan, Randy Bryce, Unions