Staffers Sue Billionaire Dem Tom Steyer

Dem billionaire faces suit under labor law championed by his allies

Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer / Getty Images
August 6, 2020

Former staffers of Tom Steyer's failed presidential campaign filed a lawsuit accusing the Democratic billionaire of violating their labor rights, state filings show.

The July 27 lawsuit from field organizers Alexa Kern and Mary Sweeney was filed under the state's Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), a 2004 law that permits employees to sue their employer on the state's behalf for wage and labor infractions. While its details remain unknown, 89 percent of PAGA claims allege wage violations such as "failure to pay for all hours worked," according to a February report issued by state advocacy groups.

During his career as a Democratic megadonor, Steyer empowered PAGA through his close ties to top unions and California Democrats.

Steyer co-chairs Democratic governor Gavin Newsom's economic recovery commission. Newsom's administration has repeatedly defended PAGA in court following challenges to its constitutionality. PAGA has also been buoyed by the support of labor unions in California. In 2016, the billionaire joined a bevy of unions, including the AFL-CIO; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Federation of Teachers; and National Education Association to form a liberal super PAC that spent tens of millions of dollars to elect Democrats. Labor watchdogs said that the lawsuit should remind Steyer about a reality that California small business owners deal with every day.

"Here's somebody that the governor appointed to get the economy rolling again, and he's violating state labor laws with his own presidential campaign," California Business and Industrial Alliance founder Tom Manzo told the Washington Free Beacon. "Steyer and Newsom have a tendency to side with labor unions and back whatever they're doing. Those groups often call employers who do things wrong 'wage thieves.' Well who's the wage thief now?"

Steyer, who did not respond to a request for comment, has previously faced allegations of poor workplace conditions at his flagship environmental advocacy nonprofit. According to the now-defunct liberal site Splinter News, NextGen America field organizers often worked more than 80 hours a week with little to no time off.

"It was insane. We had senior staff quit several times.… Our Reno team, I think it was two times the entire office quit and had to be rehired," one NextGen staffer said.

Steyer has remained politically active through NextGen since his failed presidential campaign. The group has spent more than $5.5 million dollars backing Democrats in the 2020 cycle.

Attorneys representing Kern and Sweeney did not respond to a request for comment at the time of posting.

Steyer is not the only billionaire Democratic presidential candidate facing legal reprisal from failed campaigns. Former staffers have also filed suit against former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg for reneging on his promise to pay staffers through November despite his brief bid for the Democratic nomination.