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D.N.C. Staff to Join Union, in a Milestone for Labor


Staff members at the Democratic National Committee are set to be represented by a union, the first time a national party organization will have a unionized work force, committee officials said on Tuesday.

Roughly 150 employees at the committee will join the Service Employees International Union Local 500, a group that represents public-sector workers in the District of Columbia and across Maryland. They agreed to unionize through what is known as a card-check system: A majority of eligible staff members at the D.N.C. signed cards opting to form a union. That kind of method for unionizing is supported in the party’s platform, which calls to recognize unions that form through such systems.

“The D.N.C. has the ability to be a really powerful agent of positive change for working Americans, and we think this is an opportunity for us to really live those values,” said Christen Sparago, who manages monthly donors for the committee and helped lead the unionization effort.

The push for unionization was supported by the D.N.C.’s executive director, Sam Cornale, and Mary Beth Cahill, a senior adviser and former chief executive of the committee.

The committee is now negotiating the details of which staff members will be considered part of the union and who will be exempt — a group that is expected to include about 100 staff members with managerial responsibilities. Positions at the committee range from low-level organizers to higher-ranking managers who oversee efforts coordinating social media, fund-raising and messaging. After voluntary recognition by D.N.C. management, which is expected in the coming weeks, they will begin contract negotiations.

“The D.N.C.’s employees are smart, diverse, resilient and inspirational, and I am honored to lead this team in our critical work to elect Democrats,” Mr. Cornale said. “As the D.N.C. told S.E.I.U., if a majority of D.N.C. employees in a mutually agreed-upon bargaining unit express their desire to form a union, we will be proud to voluntarily recognize that union.”

Democratic political organizations picked up their unionization push in 2019, during the party’s presidential primary contest. The efforts reflect both a changing sense of fair working conditions among younger political staff members and an influx of money into politics that has increased the ability of campaigns to provide bigger salaries and more benefits.

In March 2019, Senator Bernie Sanders became the first major-party presidential candidate to have a unionized campaign staff. Workers for the presidential campaigns of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, as well as Julián Castro, the former housing secretary and mayor of San Antonio, followed with their own unionization efforts.

Last year, unionized field organizers ratified a contract with Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign that included overtime pay, health insurance fully paid by the campaign, a six-day workweek and a grievance procedure. Workers at several Democratic state parties, including Texas, have also unionized.

For young political staff members, unions offer some protections while working on campaigns, which are notorious for long hours and sometimes toxic workplaces. While unionized staff members still work at the intense pace demanded of political organizations, they have more protections. Often, though, the months or even yearslong process of negotiating and ratifying a contract can take longer than the actual campaign.

For candidates, unionization offers a way to prove their commitment to the labor movement while battling for the endorsements of key unions and the votes of their rank-and-file members, who have shifted toward Republicans in recent cycles.

But they can also lead to standoffs between employees and campaign management that can expose internal tensions. An uproar over a unionization effort by staff members for Dianne Morales, a mayoral candidate in New York City, led to a strike by campaign workers and the implosion of her campaign.

Unlike other political committees or campaigns, which dismiss their staffs at the end of the political cycle, the D.N.C. has a more permanent work force, meaning that benefits like parental leave, health care and vacation days are more standardized and open to negotiations. For the past several campaign cycles, all staff members have been given the opportunity to keep their jobs.

“We have a very wide age range of staffers working at the committee,” Mx. Sparago said. “A lot of folks who work here want to make a career of this and have sustainable infrastructure at the workplace.”


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