A Florida Democrat vying to flip a Republican seat fired staffers in the midst of a contentious union-organizing campaign.
State representative David Richardson became the first candidate in Florida to employ union workers after his staff opted to join the Campaign Workers Guild (CWG), a fledgling union aimed at organizing political professionals. Despite campaigning as a pro-union candidate, CWG supporters said they had to "fight tooth and nail" during negotiations with Richardson. The contentious organizing campaign also took a toll on paid employees.
Richardson fired several field organizers as he negotiated terms with the union over compensation and moving expenses. One former field organizer linked the lay-offs to contract disputes in an interview with the Miami Herald.
"David wanted to be able to fire anyone at will and that wasn’t acceptable to us," Isaiah Ghafoor said after unionization was announced. "Two days after a heated bargaining session, seven field organizers were laid off and the finance manager."
Richardson, who is running to fill the seat of retiring Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, did not return request for comment about the unionization campaign or the lay-offs. A senior campaign consultant denied that the firings were related to the push to join the guild, saying there was "zero connection." He told the Herald that the campaign strategy had shifted and reducing payroll was necessary to increase the advertising budget.
The Campaign Workers Guild did not return requests for comment about the negotiations or fired workers. The union was formed to boost wages and job security for staffers who face uncertain employment prospects given the rapidly changing nature of campaigns. Among its demands are protections from "retaliation" and other "abuses by management, coworkers, or others."
One labor relations expert, who requested anonymity to discuss a political issue, said candidates like Richardson have invited in the headaches that emerge from contentious negotiations. Campaign lay-offs are common and strategies shift to reflect political reality. Laying off field organizers would be unremarkable were it not for the guild's involvement.
"There’s a management [Richardson] saying that ‘you get the union you deserve.’ So I guess when you welcome in a union through card check in an attempt to land labor contributions and endorsements, you deserve to be taken to task for hypocrisy when you fail to capitulate to every union demand no matter how unreasonable," the expert said.
A key recruitment tool for the union has been highlighting the disconnect between how union-backed candidates treat their workers. Its website urges workers to "fight for a more just and equitable progressive movement."
"We call for the establishment of a collective bargaining unit for all eligible campaign workers, including field and non-field staff," the union said in an open letter to the Democratic Party. "Campaign workers have been fighting for the above progressive values for years. We demand these same protections."
The CWG gained prominence when viral sensation Randy Bryce, an organizer with the Iron Workers union, became the first Democrat to allow staffers to join. The movement has grown to about 20 Democratic campaigns and advocacy groups listed on its website's "Victories" section. The union has yet to include Richardson on the list.