Canvassers from the political campaigns Break the Majority and Aim Higher Now spent the weekend knocking on doors to gain votes for progressive candidates who support a middle-class agenda. But those canvassers had already won a decisive victory before Tuesday’s election results were announced.
Employees from the campaigns voted to unionize in recent weeks and were recognized by their respective political backers, a sign that the progressive campaign industry—plagued by long hours and low pay—is beginning to practice what it preaches.
“We are proud to have come together with overwhelming support from the Campaign Workers Guild and the North Carolina Democratic Party,” Break the Majority field organizer Grayson Barnette said in a statement Thursday. “I am hopeful that this agreement will lay the groundwork for future campaigns in the South to unionize.”
Break the Majority is an NCDP campaign to end the Republican supermajority in the legislature. It has about sixty employees. Aim Higher Now, which has fourteen workers, is a project of North Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools that promotes investments in education, the environment, and expanded voting access.
Anthony Harrison started working as a field organizer for Break the Majority in September and, like most campaign employees, is passionate about the cause. But that passion was pushed to its limits, he says, when he was pressured to go out in the field during an outbreak of gout.
“I thought, man, we should be unionized,” Harrison says. “The conditions driving the Break the Majority workers to unionize are largely those that prevail across the entire campaign industry—stuff like long hours, low wages, lack of a voice in work conditions—and they were all present here.”
Break the Majority voted to unionize in September and gained recognition from the NCDP last month. While declining to go into the specifics of the collective bargaining agreement, Harrison says it contains a cap on work hours and a new discipline process for employees.
Aim Higher Now was able to negotiate a forty-hour workweek, says organizer Noreen Elnady. The industry standard is between eighty and one hundred hours.
“We saw this as a great opportunity to live the campaign’s values,” Elnady says. “[Aim Higher Now] is full of amazing people, and we, as a unit, decided that we want to give ourselves better hours and be leaders in that way.”
The Campaign Workers Guild, which represents twenty-eight campaigns nationwide, facilitated negotiations for both unions. While a guild representative has a seat at the bargaining table, the workers drive the process, says guild secretary Ihaab Syed.
Break the Majority and Aim Higher Now are the first North Carolina campaigns to unionize with the guild. As such, Syed says, “there’s a good chance they are the first set of political workers to unionize in North Carolina ever”—an important benchmark that could encourage other campaign workers to collectively bargain for better working conditions.
“One of the great things we’re doing is we’re helping empower a huge group of workers to do contract negotiations,” Syed says. “That’s really important in an industry that has not been unionized before.”
North Carolina AFL-CIO president MaryBe McMillan applauded the workers’ efforts, saying it’s crucial for progressive organizations to “walk the walk.”
“The movement has to start from within, and if we say that we’re for justice and fairness, then we’ve got to respect our own workers’ rights to organize and have work-life balance and decent wages,” McMillan says. “It especially sets an example for other progressive organizations.”