Last week, Michael Careccia took to Twitter to drum up support for an employer who had, less than two months earlier, laid him off in a manner reminiscent of the way I was dumped by my high school boyfriend: unceremoniously, in the parking lot of a gas station, and after repeated assurances, in weeks prior, that the relationship was stable.
Given the circumstances, Careccia’s tweet—which called for monetary donations to his former employer, the North Carolina Democratic Party (NCDP)—might have been peculiar if not for the momentous change that spurred it.
His post came several hours after party members rejected the establishment-backed incumbent chair, former state representative Bobbie Richardson, in favor of Anderson Clayton, a 25-year-old Person County native whose fresh perspective and urgent optimism rang true with a party reeling from its November losses.
The win, Careccia says, has restored his faith in what he feared was a sinking ship.
Careccia, who lives in Lenoir, has been rallying Democratic voters in the western part of North Carolina for years, but he didn’t start getting paid for his efforts until April 2022, when the NCDP brought him on as a regional organizing director (ROD).
He was one of seven RODs recruited to staff Building Blue, a brand-new program intended to provide year-round training and assistance to county parties around the state. Careccia was stationed on his home turf, between Watauga and Forsyth Counties.
About a month after Careccia was hired, a fellow ROD asked him if he’d like to sign a union card. A handful of staff members had reached out to the Campaign Workers Guild—a national union that represents party workers across the country—and succeeded in obtaining a representative, the ROD told Careccia. If enough staffers signed cards, they could go to NCDP management and ask for union recognition.
Careccia—who had spent the previous several years attempting to organize his coworkers at Walmart and Bargain Hunt—was jazzed. He signed on, as did about 90 percent of the other year-round staff members.
And so began a tumultuous six months in which Careccia says NCDP leadership took actions to dissuade staff members from organizing and strategically shut RODs out of union negotiations before terminating the Building Blue program in December.
In the wake of the recent chair election, the INDY spoke with Careccia—who currently serves as the vice president of development at Young Democrats of North Carolina—to learn more about his experience trying to unionize under former leadership and to hear why he thinks things might play out differently in the future.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
*NCDP declined the INDY’s request for comment on this piece.
INDY Week: Why did you and other NCDP workers want to unionize? What were your demands?
Careccia: Some staff members were looking at how other states have a 401(k) plan, and we do not, whereas other members were concerned about the pay gap between management and the lowest-paid staff member.
One of the other big issues that we wanted to discuss at the table was changing the culture. North Carolina is a hard place for workers to get the respect and rights that they deserve. But the NCDP is supposed to be a major megaphone for those people.
How did NCDP leadership respond to your unionization efforts?
The first thing we needed to do was reach out to management and give them the opportunity to voluntarily recognize our union. We ended up extending the deadline [for them to respond] two or three times. A few months later, we got a response—not from our executive director but from the legal counsels. The legal team claimed that the RODs were attempting to form an illegal bargaining unit and were not eligible to be protected under the union because we were “intended to one day be in supervisory roles”—even though we did not hold supervisory positions at the time.
During that time, there were talks about shifting the Building Blue RODs over to the coordinated campaign, [a get-out-the-vote initiative] which comes in during the election cycle and then leaves. The idea was to temporarily make us supervisors—which we took immediately as union busting. We addressed our concerns with management and with legal, and we wound up coming to a verbal agreement that we would be recognized as part of the union in November, when we shifted from the coordinated campaign back to our Building Blue positions after the election.
[During the months that the RODs were working on the coordinated campaign], we couldn’t be at the bargaining table, but we were hearing from the staff members who were. One of the deputy directors was given an ultimatum: you either drop trying to organize or you take a demotion. Things really started to heat up. Directors were following staff members to the bathrooms. They would say things like, “I’m your friend, I care about you. Why would you try to push against me on unionizing?” All these intimidation tactics.
And the unit started to run into issues with regressive bargaining, which is where both parties have tentatively agreed on an article and [the employer] changes the article later on without a mutual agreement. So [the bargaining unit] submitted an unfair labor practice to the [National Labor Relations Board]. The deal was that if [NCDP] retracted their regressive bargaining, [the unit] would retract their unfair labor practice. And that did wind up happening.
What happened after the November election?
The following Monday, we were told that we were not being laid off, and that we could continue our work with Building Blue. Then, a day or two later, we were told that we had six months to prove ourselves, to prove that the Building Blue program was something worth funding. Throughout November, they told us that on a daily basis: Six months. We have six months.
In December, I got approved for vacation time to go up to Buffalo for a Young Democrats convention. I got to West Virginia and wound up getting a text message asking me to hop on Zoom for an all-staff meeting. I was kind of reluctant at first, because I was like, “I’m on vacation,” but I’m also the type of person that doesn’t like to miss anything. I decided that I could just sit on Zoom while driving. But when I hopped on the call, I realized very quickly that I needed to park, because this was not an all-staff meeting: it was just Building Blue RODs, our supervisor, and the party’s adviser. They told us that we were being laid off.
And here’s the best part: while we were being laid off, they told us that we would be paid through the end of the month, as per the union contract. That’s the point when we realized that we were, in fact, covered under the union. It was never told to us until that very moment. Remember, we had that verbal agreement with management about getting union recognition after the election, but we’d been waiting to have the conversation because we were still catching up on sleep and we wanted things to be as smooth as possible.
There were a total of nine staff members who were laid off that day. All nine were members of the union.
How did you feel during that Zoom call?
We were all stunned. We were absolutely blindsided. I had made a dentist’s appointment for the beginning of January, but my insurance would be gone by the end of December. There was a staff member who had waited to pay some large expenses—something like buying a car or making a down payment—until after the election, when we were told we would be employed for at least six more months. For that person to be told, a few weeks later, that they were out of a job—it was devastating.
Is your sense that the dismantling of Building Blue was related to your organizing efforts?
There is no doubt in my mind.
Do you see a connection between this series of events and how badly the elections went for Democrats in North Carolina?
I think to some degree, there is a connection. We would have definitely gotten better results had we not been forced to take up the time to do this—and had we not been made to feel like, “Why am I here? Why am I taking this shit from management, who goes out in public and claims to be on our side but comes back into the office and acts completely different?”
What’s the current status of the staff union? Have any demands been successfully negotiated?
The big win, first off, is that staff now have union representation. In terms of negotiations [that occurred during the months Building Blue RODs were working on the coordinated campaign], we didn’t get everything that we asked for, but there were some wins. One of the things that we definitely were not willing to back down on was negotiating for a fair wage. And we did get a win there.
How are you feeling in the wake of the chair election?
I’m kind of on a high right now. Goose bumps everywhere. I’m excited about the change that’s coming. Now we’ve got young people who are represented. We’ve got new, fresh ideas.
Anderson herself was a union member with one of the campaigns that she worked on in the past, so she knows exactly what we went through. She was also an [NCDP] council member who supported the staff union during their union efforts over the summer. So just to have someone who knows how the process goes and who knows what it’s like to be a worker on the ground for the Democratic Party—it’ll be great to have that type of representation for the staff.
*Editor’s note: The North Carolina Democratic Party sent the following statement after our deadline:
“The NCDP has been and will continue to be a strong advocate for employees’ right to unionize, including its own employees. We are committed to following through on the agreements made in the CBA with the Campaign Workers Guild during this last cycle. The NCDP voluntarily recognized the Campaign Workers Guild as the bargaining representative of its temporary campaign staff in 2018 and 2020.
In 2022, the NCDP voluntarily recognized the CWG as the bargaining representative for its temporary campaign staff and its headquarters staff. The NCDP and the CWG successfully negotiated two contracts in 2022, one for the temporary campaign staff and one for the headquarter staff. Those contracts will remain in place through March of 2025 and they include the Regional Organizing Directors on the headquarters contract.
The December layoffs were a financial decision, not related to job performance, the worthiness of any particular program, or an employees’ membership in or support of the union.
NCDP leadership did not slow down after November and was committed to trying to raise money to keep as many headquarters staff as possible, but never promised a job through six months.
We believe in a year-round organizing program – 2021’s being the first of its kind for NCDP. But with every program, we can only keep it if we have the money. In fact, every department shrunk following the election, which is a natural occurrence following an upswing in hiring prior to an election, and a downswing in financial contributions after an election.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistated where Careccia was stationed. It was between the counties of Forsyth and Watauga, not Forsyth and Boone.
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