Unionizing temporary campaign jobs? It’s now a thing



In a Labor Day announcement, Al Gross, candidate for U.S. Senate on the Democratic ticket (as an “independent”), announced his campaign is unionizing under the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. The 30-second Facebook announcement sounded like an April Fool’s joke, but Gross appeared sincere.

This, after a career as a high-flying surgeon, raised questions about his campaign judgment and priorities, since his campaign seems to be a one-man operation, with wife, kids, and a contractor or two. It doesn’t quite pass the giggle test. But as a dark horse, if he’s looking for some coattails in Alaska, maybe the unions will bite on this gimmick. For now, however, the unionizing of his family may have to do.

Unionizing campaign staff is a thing with Democrats in 2019. All the big “Dem-Sens” have done it: Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has the largest unionized campaign staff of the pack, at over 200 paid staffers.

This is a new era for unions, and if Warren keeps ascending, she could be in a good spot with the major unions backing her for the Democratic nomination.

But campaign jobs are notoriously unstable. No only are campaign workers extremely temporary, they are perhaps the most exempt workers of all — they only last until the money runs out, or there’s a win, or until the campaign implodes because of other dynamics. And most campaign workers are volunteers who work for paid staffers and who might get alienated by their union overlords.

Working in a political campaign is not a cookie cutter experience. Every campaign must adjust and adapt to a constantly changing political and fiscal landscape. A scandal may erupt. A person may not get elevated in the campaign because they haven’t won the trust of the candidate. People typically take sick leave when they can, and vacations when the campaigns come to a close.

Other campaigns are run by contractors with expertise in the area and who have other clients and campaigns they are managing.


At the straw poll at the Alaska State Fair booth of the Mat-Su Democrats, Elizabeth Warren, with the big union campaign staff, was far and away the favorite candidate of the approximately 600 participants in the poll. Here’s the breakdown of the poll after the fair closed on Monday:

  • Warren: 35.2 percent
  • Sanders: 18.5 percent
  • Buttigieg: 13.3 percent
  • Biden: 9.6 percent
  • Harris: 9.6
  • Yang: 7.3 percent
  • O’Rourke: 2.4 percent.


  1. Who is paying the members dues and initiation fees? Check into contract. Also will they be in union long enough to vest a retirement? What kind of medical and dental, sick days, maternity leave and job security. I would lay bet it’s a special contract.

  2. Also last month, Democratic contender Julian Castro’s staff of several dozen unanimously joined the Campaign Workers Guild. The Castro campaign’s union contract is still in the works, according to Sawyer Hackett, the campaign’s national press secretary. Wouldn’t it be fun if there was a strike because of no contract?

  3. Unions work essentially as subcontractors, I have no doubt these contracts for these “unions” are little more than handshake agreements that do nothing but make a mockery of the actual union structure, just like these candidates make a mockery of our country and actual unions who protect actual workers.

  4. One need look no further than the picture… stuff of nightmares…
    A twilight zone with no exit lane…
    A Medusa… fugitive from a Hitchcock movie…
    coming to a voting booth near you…

  5. So, they’re going to have “company unions” and “yellow dog” contracts in all the communist, excuse me, Democrat campaigns? A company union is one set up or specifically chosen by the company; once upon a time real trade unions frowned on that. A yellow dog contract is a very company friendly contract used to avoid a real contract.

    As a general rule the work in a political campaign is temporary and at will and most campaign employees formulate, implement, or effectuate the employer, the candidate’s, policies. People who formulate, implement, or effectuate policy or who are direct reports to such people are either management or confidential employees and are not considered employees for purposes of the Labor-Management Relations Act. Temporary employees are rarely represented in any sector and if they are have very limited bargaining rights.

    There are very few “employees” more “at will” than the staff of a political campaign; there is zero job security unless you have filthy pictures of the candidate. Nothing in the LMRA says you have to have a formal grievance process, but the bargaining duty says that you must negotiate to “adjust grievances,” so you have a grievance process whether you wanted one or not. Nothing says you have to have a “just cause” discipline and dismissal scheme in a private sector labor agreement, but most arbitrators and courts will hold that the existence of a contractual relationship imposes a just cause provision. So, some disgruntled staffer leaks something scurrilous about the candidate, the candidate fires him/her, and a judge says not so fast. That’s going to be fun to watch; there’ll be a lot of judge shopping going on.

    Anyway, this is all a sham or if it isn’t some candidates and campaigns are going to find out some of the realities of having unionized employees the hard way.

  6. I am all-in for Beto. He is some kind of a mystical, transformative creature; it appears from his speeches that this bird is about to take flight. I wonder what he can bring us from his prior life as a boarder/hacker? Save the planet and prosecute the corporations (Except for Tesla, Google and Facebook). Confiscate all the weapons, dude, and open the borders. And lots and lists of cheap weed! It is all good, man.

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