WASHINGTON — The staff of the Democratic National Committee announced plans to unionize Tuesday, joining the Washington-area chapter of the massive Service Employees International Union after about two-thirds of eligible employees voted to join and managers voluntarily recognized the union.
The move marks the biggest win yet in the effort to organize political staffers, mainly on the left, which began just a few years ago and has, in some instances, faced behind-the-scenes resistance from publicly pro-union politicians and groups.
“We are incredibly excited to join SEIU Local 500 to live our Democratic values at our workplace,” said Alison Goh, a DNC staffer who used to work for the SEIU and helped lead the union drive. “Throughout this process, our aim has been not only to improve the lives of current and future staff at the DNC, but to ensure our staff, no matter where they live, are protected and given the resources they need to thrive in their careers and succeed in our mission to elect Democrats.”
Managers voluntarily recognized the union, and Executive Director Sam Cornale said the DNC, led by Chair Jaime Harrison, was “proud” to support the effort.
“I am inspired by the incredible DNC team, and that’s especially true today as they live the values we hold dear as Democrats,” Cornale said.
In a joint statement, management and staff members insisted that while unionization efforts often stem from workplace disputes, that was not the case at the DNC, where, they said, the process has been “collegial, efficient, and productive.”
Unlike in a typical union election administered by the National Labor Relations Board, staffers and management agreed to have an independent outside observer count the votes, selecting former Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., who is also a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.
Edwards determined Tuesday that the vote had succeeded after about 67 percent of eligible employees signed cards of support. They will now begin to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.
The news from Democrats' national headquarters is likely to spur organizing efforts at state and local chapters that haven’t yet unionized, as well as at Democratic campaigns and allied outside groups. It is also likely to apply further pressure to managers at liberal organizations to go along with the efforts.
Political staffers often work long hours for minimal pay, especially during the frenzied campaign season, and they have complained about a wide variety of workplace issues, including lax sexual harassment protections, substandard benefits, diversity and discrimination issues and unsafe working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the past, the complaints were usually kept silent in the name of service to the larger cause, but employees have become more vocal in recent years as the culture has evolved on workplace gender and race issues and as unions expand into industries like digital media outlets and political campaigns.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign was the first presidential campaign to unionize, and the campaigns of most of his rivals in the Democratic primaries followed suit. Several leading progressive super PACs, advocacy organizations and think tanks have also unionized, usually with the consent of managers, despite some private tensions.
Some have joined the Campaign Workers Guild, which was founded in 2017 by workers who, according to the upstart union, “sacrificed our health, financial security, and leisure time to support candidates and movements” that “do not always live up to the values they often publicly espouse.”
Others, like the DNC, have affiliated with larger legacy unions, which have themselves been looking for new industries to organize to help counter decades of decline in unionization among more traditional workplaces, like factory floors.
Republicans and conservative groups have not joined the effort — they tend to be skeptical of organized labor.