If Howard Dean, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has any sense at all, he will spend as long as it takes to fix this mess. Not only should he put America’s biggest labor and union supporter, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) on his speed dial, but he should park his butt on their front porch until they agree to see him. Because without their financial support and the votes of the ten million union members in America, Dean can forget about taking back the White House next year.
See, for the last four years, a company Chairman Dean hired to fundraise and do campaign work for the Democratic Party have been breaking labor laws right under his nose. The facts about this story have been rumored over the Internet for years, but late last week, the story officially broke in the Daily Journal, a law publication based in Los Angeles. In the article, Gary Scott reported that Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. (GCI), the contracted company employed by the DNC since 2003, is being sued by four former employees because of labor law violations. The workers claim they were forced to work 10-15 hours per day, six to seven days a week, at a salary of $24,000 per year. The workers allege they received no overtime pay and often had to pay for work related expenses out of pocket. Furthermore, breaks were limited, and lunch and dinner hours were frequently cut short or removed completely. Not only are these hours, wages, and conditions illegal in many states across America, they are, according to the plaintiff’s attorney Robert Nelson, “like something out of Upton Sinclair’s famous labor novel from 1906, The Jungle.”
In most lawsuits and labor cases like these, I tend to hold judgment until after the trial or settlement, because you never know if the employees have an axe to grind or are just plain delusional. However, in this case, the facts are undisputed. After reading Scott’s article in the Daily Journal, I went to GCI’s website and sure enough, I was able to view the expected working hours for Directors in the company. According to the company’s “Day in the Life of a Director” page, a Director for GCI is expected to arrive at the office at 8:30am and work until 11:00pm. For those of you scoring at home, that’s 14.5 hours of work per day. The GCI website also has a downloadable job description for Directors, which states that they are expected to work 80 to 100 a week including weekends. This means that Directors for GCI, going strictly by their own website, are working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. These workers – and perhaps hundreds others like them – according to Scott’s sources, are non-exempt employees, meaning they each should have been paid thousands of dollars in overtime. This spells trouble for Howard Dean and the DNC.
Angela Badami, 25, is one of the four employees suing Grassroots Campaigns. As an Assistant Director for the company in 2006, Badami spent months knocking on doors and stalking potential voters on the streets of San Francisco. Her goal was to raise money and awareness for the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates in the 2006 midterm elections. She worked six days a week, from about 8:00am to 11:00pm. “I really wanted, and still do want, to see change in this country - getting out of Iraq, having health care for everyone; (these are the) ideals I got to talk about everyday. That is what kept me going,” Badami said. Ultimately though, the long hours, low pay, and difficult working requirements led Badami and her colleagues to seek action against GCI. And good for them! They deserve to be compensated fairly for their work, and if anyone understands that, it should be the Democratic Party and its supporters.
Dean and the Democrats can spew out a bunch of rhetoric about minimum wage, better health coverage, and improved labor conditions, but it won’t mean a thing to voters and labor groups, if they don’t get their own contractors in line. This is the kind of political garbage that American’s have come to hate. And now, the “party of the people”, the party who claims to work for the little guy and the party of the labor movement is not only taking advantage of its workers, but it is employing a company that breaks the very laws they are fighting for. Is it any wonder Americans don’t want to put a Democrat in the White House?