Overview of recent organizing efforts by Wobbly canvassers, and the uphill battle they have faced from their employer, a “progressive” Canvassing corporation that raises money for the DNC, ACLU, SPLC and a variety of non-profits.
Over the past several months workers relying on what’s often called the “non-profit” sector, have been organizing to tackle systematic workplace grievances and management withholding pay, benefits and pushing through extreme employment dependent performance goals.
Despite the name many companies involved in the charity or non profit sector are actually very profitable, some companies like the Grassroots Campaigns Inc (GCI) which has some very high profile and well funded clients like the AFL-CIO. A number of its workers in several areas, Seattle, Portland, New Orleans etc have started working with the Industrial Workers of the World to establish branches of the United Campaign Workers Union.
The campaigns are passing up recognition from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and are instead consciously pushing a Solidarity Unionism strategy.
From Street Canvassing for Good Causes: The Worst Job in Town? by Shane Burley of In These Times:
Last week, the United Campaign Workers union, an affiliate of the Portland Industrial Workers of the World, announced its second organized workplace in its less than two months of existence. (The first was the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp.)Canvassers working for Grassroots Campaigns Inc. (GCI), a third-party contractor that does street canvassing and fundraising for progressive nonprofit organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Center, informed management of their unionization drive two weeks ago. The union drive began in response to what workers say were unsustainable turnover rates from firings and overly complicated pay scales.
The article is worth reading in full as it gives a lot of detail to working conditions at GCI and the early campaigns of the United Canvassers Union. The response from management side has been less than welcoming, workers suspected of being organizers have been fired in New Orleans.
From the relief fund set up to support workers in New Orleans:
Four workers organizing at Grassroots Campaigns (GCI) in New Orleans were fired for organizing a union. GCI specializes in fundraising for progressive nonprofits, but when it comes to their workers they fail to live up to their progressive image.About a month ago GCI workers in New Orleans filed for a union election to be represented by the IWW. Just prior to the union filing and in the time since workers in the shop have faced severe backlash from management. Four organizers have been fired in the lead up to the union election. Another was using their car for work purposes when it was towed, only to find that the company refused to cover the costs.
These firings and other acts of retaliation have caused severe hardship for GCI workers. The IWW Group in New Orleans is raising funds to help the workers through this tough situation.
We firmly believe that an injury to one is an injury to all. When those on the frontlines of the union struggle face retaliation for their actions, we need to have their backs.
And elsewhere in June, GCI resorted to lock outs to try and break the resistance from canvassers. From the support fund for workers in Seattle:
On June 9, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc, locked out their unionized employees in response to protected union activity requesting better training for new employees. While the lockout has since been ended through direct action, pickets all over the country, and call-in campaigns, employees were still out of work for two weeks and many will have difficulty making their rent.Solidarity from you can make a big difference in these worker’s lives.
I’ve been told that lockouts by GCI are still ongoing in other areas that the company operates in, because the campaign has grown on a more national scale with canvassers and Wobblie branches getting involved in the campaign. Its been growing over several months.
However despite the increased intensity of this workplace struggle it doesn’t appear to have affected GCI’s more high profile clients. There hasn’t been any major response or removal of business ties from GCI by any of the major “progressive” clients, which is quite the extensive list of charities and liberal orgs.:
Current and Former Clients Include
The American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International USA
CA League of Conservation Voters
Center for American Progress
Colorado State Democratic Party
Conservation Law Foundation
D.C. Public Schools
Democratic National Committee
Doctors Without Borders
Everytown for Gun Safety
Freedom to Marry
League of Conservation Voters
MoveOn.org Political Action
Nevada State Democratic Party
Obama for America
Pennsylvania Coordinated Campaign
People For the American Way
Plan International USA
Planned Parenthood of NYC
Respect ABQ Women
Southern Poverty Law Center
The Media Fund
The Nature Conservancy
VoteVets.org Political Action
WA State Coordinated Campaign
Included on the list is the AFL-CIO through the organization Working America. Neither Working America nor the AFL-CIO have made a public statement condemning the lockouts or supporting the Canvassers in their struggles. It was also found that the current President of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka had met with senior GCI staff in October 2017.
Now the current campaign began in the summer of 2018 so it may seem a bit unfair to bring up an old meeting (though it isn’t a good look for a Union President to be sign glad handing a Union busting company) but GCI has a reputation for Union busting that goes back years. If you go to the wikipedia page for the company it lists many other previous attempts of workers for GCI to organize, mainly through trying to get recognition by the NLRB, and its linked the NLRB receipts. Some of them go back to 2009 and 2011, and the latest was in 2017.
So with that in mind I think it is fair to ask questions of why the AFL-CIO and its President have maintained good relations with this company and have remained silent over its years of mistreatment of its employees, especially now that a national campaign is under way.
But this not unique to the GCI and AFL-CIO, in many ways its endemic to the whole sector. Many high profile Activist businesses and well funded organizations are content to turn a blind eye to the exploitation of the very workers whom do the work to raise the money for all these good causes. It is extremely hypocritical that organizations seek donations on the promise of doing good are themselves indifferent at best, and hostile at worst to exploited and vulnerable workers.
But it is a reminder of the importance of Solidarity from fellow workers.