Amid perennial politics, campaign workers unionize

The Erin Murphy for Governor team became the first campaign staff to unionize. (PHOTO: Campaign Workers Guild)

My first experience with political campaigning came after I walked into the Democratic-Farmer-Labor campaign office in Virginia, Minnesota in 1996. I volunteered on the spot. My school just laid off some of my teachers. Further, I had no idea how my recently bankrupted family and I would be able to pay for college. Motivated, I joined the side that sought to increase education funding.

That first year was mostly a lot of time calling people to ask who they supported while marking little boxes on a call sheet. My favorite part was the door knocking, rapping on the doors of old mining houses across the Range and chatting with folks who, believe it or not, usually seemed glad to see you. I kept this up through college.

I spent a few years outside of politics before returning in my late 20s, eventually becoming a campaign manager for my friend Tom Anzelc in 2006. Those short 10 years had brought remarkable change to the business. Digitized campaign data became more valuable, so more time was spent acquiring and analyzing that data. That required more staff and more volunteers. Campaigns needed more time, so they started earlier. All of this required more money, so that, too, became an even bigger part of the operation. The result — evident in today’s politics — is a nearly year-round campaign apparatus staffed by people with an increasingly specific set of skills.

I’ve seen campaign workers put in 100-hour weeks, breaking down physically and mentally.

It doesn’t take a labor scholar long to realize that this is an environment that can spur the development of unions. Organizing campaign workers was never feasible when most of the paid workers were limited to six months every other year. But campaigns run year-round now, and the workers are harder to replace quickly.

In other words, modern politics isn’t just creating the sense of non-stop campaigning. It’s creating an entire economic system attached to our politics. This cuts across both major parties. Reforming politics, therefore, requires reforming campaigns as well.

This spring, staffers on the Erin Murphy for Governor team became the first campaign workers in America to unionize. The Campaign Workers Guild currently seeks to unionize campaigns across the country, mostly in the Democratic Party. Not unexpectedly, there is some resistance to the idea, even among labor-friendly campaigns.

Murphy’s campaign earned national coverage for their union vote. The story became a National Public Radio headline over the weekend. But national news organizations have also reported on campaigns that resisted union representation, essentially saying that campaigns that don’t work 80-hour weeks will lose, negating the point of running on a labor agenda.

I can see both sides of this, but would point out that there are more consequences of this style of campaigning. Year-round, professionalized electioneering makes it harder for new people to get involved in campaigns. Sometimes, the most obvious candidates for office become the hired guns from inside the campaigns.

Consider the race for Congress in Minnesota’s Eighth District. Two of the top DFL candidates this year are Joe Radinovich and Jason Metsa. Both of them began as campaign workers who parlayed their connections into elected office. The bulk of their careers, in fact, have come in the business of political and labor organizing. Across the state, and presumably the nation, political activists of both parties make a paltry living as campaigners before becoming party or elected officials.

What was once a part time vocation is now a bonafied profession.

I’m not sure if unionizing all the campaigns is what gets us to a better system, but it does acknowledge the human toll of this kind of work over time. Better yet, we should acknowledge that the money and bureaucracy of political campaigns creates a system that is hard to change from the outside.


  1. This is wrong. Campaign work is the ultimate in temp jobs. The nature of campaign work requires more than a “do your job” attitude: you must be willing to worker harder, longer and make sacrifices that you would NEVER make for a regular employer.

    It is that kind of enthusiasm coming from fresh faced (not battle hardened) campaign workers that excites voters.

    I could not possibly be more pro-union, but my understanding of unionism is that it protects workers. What are campaign workers being protected from? Paper cuts? Hoarseness?

    I get why Randy Bryce’s campaign unionized (his campaign is run by overpaid consultants and his workers are just trying to get a piece of the action). Murphy is being overly correct by allowing her campaign to unionize. Will she now run all her strategies by the union to make sure they speak with one voice?

    Or maybe I’m just the world’s biggest sucker. I volunteered on most of the campaigns I worked on, took very low pay from the few who reimbursed me. Maybe instead of trying to beat Republicans, I should have been trying to leverage the power of the campaign staffs I worked with for my personal advantage?

    Possibly, but I guess I’m too dumb to see how that works. I think unionizing campaigns is a bizarre form of virtue signaling that will never work out. But I do see that Murphy has actual email addresses on her website, and that’s a huge improvement over the DNC cookie cutter sites that use web forms to make sure the general public is kept at arm’s length.

  2. “I had no idea how my recently bankrupted family and I would be able to pay for college. Motivated, I joined the side that sought to increase education funding”. – Aaron Brown

    My God Aaron…can you imagine if everyone else at the time thought the same? If everyone was bankrupt and everyone asked for someone else to pay for their education?

    Geez..”You had no idea how to pay”..Did it ever cross your mind to get “motivated” to get a job and pay for it yourself verses getting “motivated” to ask someone else to pay for it?

    • So, Bob Lindgren, if I have this right you’re a retired 3-M engineer, a Bovey kid from humble beginnings who made it pretty well. I think you’re a little older than my dad, so I’m going to guess that the point in my life I describe in this post would have occurred for you in, what, the 1960s? Just a guess. Of course, you certainly worked your way through college. The idea of taking out a loan when college could be paid out of pocket with the proceeds of a part time job would have been silly. It might have cost more to go to a fancy private college, but state college would have been very attainable to anyone who could make the grades, as I’m sure you did, being an engineer and a pretty smart guy.

      You would have come out of college into a growing workforce and, with any kind of talent — as you apparently had — would have found your way into not just a job, but a viable career that would have bankrolled a nice house, cars, a retirement and college education for your own children, at least at 1980s prices. You worked for it. No doubt about it.

      But working as hard as you can is one thing. Acknowledging the entire situation that allowed your work to directly benefit your net worth and security is another. Taking out a mortgage, pursuing advanced training opportunities, investing in retirement funds, these things are much more possible when you’re not paying for your original college degree ten years after graduation. In fact, if your college loans spill into your child rearing years, you never catch up. That’s the experience a lot of young professionals are going through now. I could go on, but won’t.

      I’m very fortunate. While state college cost much more than it did for you, I really feel like I was part of the last group of kids who could work through college without having to take out TOO many loans. (College has doubled in price since I was in school just 20 years ago while wages stayed stagnant). I had to take out a few loans, but I also paid a lot of tuition out of pocket working my way through college. It wasn’t easy. I worked 35 hours a week while taking a course overload (so I could graduate in three years instead of four). I was pretty much on my own. My parents went bankrupt because of my dad’s drinking and my mother’s clinical depression. (They’re both well now, thanks for asking). I didn’t go to parties or recreate much, but I really liked my jobs and classes, and I had a wonderful girlfriend who I married my sophomore year. In truth, she helped me a lot more than the state because I could move into her apartment after my parents lost the house. I got a reasonably good job after college, enough to pay off all my loans within 18 months. We began saving for retirement and could afford a bigger house when we started having children. Like you, I don’t have to worry about money too much, even though I’m not making engineer dollars, and I do feel that I worked hard to get here.

      Of course, I didn’t get sick. Neither did my wife or sisters. My parents lived. That was in doubt at one point. Because I had avoided alcohol until after high school because of my family situation, I didn’t realize that I was an alcoholic myself until I was 30. I didn’t lose my job for my addiction and, miraculously, didn’t have to lose as much as my father did when he got help for his addiction. That was lucky. It could have been worse and I would have deserved it. But all told, it’s quantifiably beneficial to all concerned that I’m a productive citizen and better person than I was before.

      Now of course, none of this has to do with the post I wrote above. At least, not directly. Your comment was highly personal (there was no reason to say it unless you wanted to hurt my feelings), presumptuous (you claim that I had my college paid for by someone else when that’s not true), and mean (having read my book, you know a bit about my personal story, which you ignored to score a cheap hit in a trolling comment). If you want to vote against federal college grants and loans, affordable state colleges or the like, you are free to do so, and advocate the same. But please don’t attack me personally. That should go without saying, but I’m a sensitive boy. With a block button.

      • Explain Aaron, what I said or asked that was personal. I first simply quoted you. Then I asked your opinion on the justification, the fairness, in having someone else pay for someone else’s college education. Amen, that’s it. Hardly personal.

        Thanks for sharing your story. It’s not unlike the trauma in the lives of the majority of Rangers…Divorces, babies coming before marriage, parents changing jobs numerous times, mothers working, moving, alcoholism, family members dying before their time, paycheck to paycheck living, layoffs, kids working asap, grandparents moving in, being picked on in school, one bathroom homes, sisters sharing one bed, mothers darning socks, washing and reusing tinfoil, etc. That’s life. (that’s a short list of what families went/are going through, mine included. I’m sure your readers could add to the list).

        Seems a difference between my upbringing and yours though was we never expected someone else should pay for my or my family’s life choices….whether it be a used car payment, food, liquor, clothing, mortgage payments, coal payments…..or my educational choices. Not my neighbor, not relatives, not friends…and certainly not the government. That would have been nonsensical, unfair…and not right.
        Bob Lindgren
        p.s. You didn’t answer the question. You said – “You had no idea how to pay for college”. I asked – “Did it ever cross your mind to get “motivated” to get a job and pay for it yourself verses getting “motivated” to ask someone else to pay for it?

      • Aaron…sometimes your blog makes me want to light my hair on fire but you are doing something good here. The range is a tough nut that has thus far resisted cracking. It needs to be cracked if a new and better range is ever to emerge. Keep the faith, carry on and understand that it may be another generation that reaps the rewards of your efforts.

  3. Bravo, Aaron, on your accomplishments ! Ranger lives in some warped , mean world , where his only objective seems to be nasty sneers. He should have been gone long ago.

    • I think Aaron’s a pretty smart guy. He knows if he “blocks” a handful of those who comment with logical, fair opposing views from time to time…Minnesota Brown becomes nothing but a liberal/socialist echo chamber, not a voice of the Range as he’s trying to position himself. The beauty of capitalism though is he can do as he sees fit. It’s his blog..

  4. Omg. You don’t have the decency to make an apology to someone who deserves one. You’re all hubris and have no shame.

  5. Just today coincidentally, a real life story from someone who’s seen the benefit of tax cuts, not increases, helping him/his family pay their own way for one of his life choices, going to college.
    Media Reporter
    3:47 PM 04/24/2018
    A student at Georgetown University confronted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Tuesday over her infamous “crumbs” comment. The student brought up the multiple times that the California Democrat referred to the GOP tax cuts as “crumbs” for the middle class, saying, “As the son of small business owners, I know that it’s helped my parents. It’s helped us pay off our mortgage, helped put me through college.”

    • The key question here is just how much the student’s “small business owner” parents make. If they make under $100,000 a year, a figure that included over 90% of small business owners, then they will not benefit from the new tax cuts, which do not change the tax brackets significantly for them. If they are, on the other hand, small business owners like the commercial bakery owner who complained, during the run up to the ACA, that paying for health care would force him to lay off dozens of workers in order to preserve his personal income of over $3 million a year, then they will benefit.

      The most interesting thing about this is that this is yet another article where reading all the way through would make it clear that it actually undermines your position. The kid is saying the program helped put him through college, paid off his parents mortgage and so on. Since the tax program just went into effect this year, that is obviously nonsense. The tax system under which he and his parents prospered was the Obama tax program, unless they have returned from the future in a time machine.

  6. I’m sure there is anger management therapy available even for bitter old coots like you.

    • Relax kissa, deep breaths, reread what’s been said by me. Now…their is a lot of anger and hate out there but it’s mainly coming from the left, day after day, night after night. Since about 2:30 am Nov. 9, 2016 (on all things political), I’ve been ecstatic, certainly not angry. We should have coffee sometime..

  7. Just a point about education and some other spending.

    First, as Aaron indicated in his comments, the cost of education for the student has gone through the roof. Part of this is due to increased costs due to paying for the technology needed to run a 21st century education program that prepares students for life. Part of it is due to paying college teachers a salary that reflects their own commitment to a long and costly education, part to paying what amounts to a living wage for the many non-faculty employees it takes to run a college or university. Part is due to striking deceases in the levels of state and federal support in the last 35 years. And part is due to lack of growth in wages and shrinkage of the job market for people who don’t have training but are trying to get it.

    The end affect is destroying the opportunity for many young people to get the background they need to get and hold good jobs and to contribute to society.

    As Aaron says, when Ranger and I were young, you could get a degree from the U of M for money you could earn in a summer job — and there were summer jobs back then. In many states, including famously California, but also Texas, Alaska, Nevada, and other “red” states, tuition was literally free.

    In addition, those of us who are trained in professions that involve technical training often were and are special beneficiaries of extra funding for the government to cover costs not included in tuition, usually under the guise of helping the USA to be competitive in the world, to create economic expansion, and to provide critical services needed by the public. For example, the average physician now benefits from over $500,000 of additional support separate from tuition before starting a career. Yet I rarely meet a physician, a dentist, an accountant, an engineer, or a computer specialist who believes themselves to have benefitted from a free ride from taxpayers. They tend to believe that their benefits were earned, as opposed to single mothers who gets a few thousand a year to be able to have food, medical care, and housing. This is a phenomenon sometimes referred to as socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.

    There is another interesting concept well described in economics called “kicking away the ladder.” That involves individuals, groups, and countries deciding that other people do not deserve to benefit from the programs and help that allowed them to succeed. The term was originally coined to describe protective tariffs, but has now been extended to programs like education, government infrastructure, government paid research, and so on.

    In the end, any even superficial study of the facts regarding education would demonstrate that investment in education and research is, far from a drain on taxpayers, an investment that pays off in multiples. I am certain that Ranger has long since paid enough in taxes to pay off the money extended to provide his education, as have I. That turns out to be true for single mothers, other low income people, opioid addicts, convicted felons, immigrants, and many others. Providing education, training, health care, treatment for addiction, housing, child care, and other programs pays for itself in future economic growth, people leaving support programs, and people joining the ranks of taxpayers.

    The most wasteful government spending by far is spending on unnecessary military projects, weapons systems that are ineffective or duplicative, and, especially, on wars that do not have reasonable and attainable goals, drag on forever, and only serve to make enemies of people who previously did not much care about us one way or the other. Addressing that is a spending cut program that I could certainly get behind as a taxpayer.

    • The cost of a lot of things has “gone through the roof”. If you can’t afford it but still want something, asking your neighbor to pay for it is evil. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. That includes college.

      I’ve no problem having a discussion on what we should be spending on, military or otherwise. But no way should we increase spending in one category before decreasing in another. Reducing the EPA budget from $8 billion annually to $2 billion and their employee count from 15,000 to 2,000 would be a great place to start. Another would be the Dept of Education. What in the world is the Federal government doing in that business? Education is a local, at most a state issue. Eliminate the 4,000 people and the department totally and give the $68 billion, $68 BILLION…to the states.

      • The cost of education rising so much is the result of a reversal of the historic commitment of states to higher ed, based mostly on the proven ability of higher ed to jump start the economy. Although “everything has gone through the roof,” the cost of education to the student has gone up much faster. The state share of higher education costs has gone from over 90% back in the 50’s, sixties, and early 70’s to less than 35% today. So in addition to inflation, the reversal of financing patterns has contributed a raise in costs for students that is more than twice the rise in most products. We won. They lose.

        Meanwhile, saving money on eliminating EPA and Dept. of Ed pales compared with the costs involved in eliminating a single DOD project that has run amok. For example, the F-35 fighter jet will now costs $406 billion with a a cost overrun of $163 billion.

        Your plan for the Dept of Ed, of course, does not save a penny. It just transfers the money to the states. The savings you envision by virtually closing the EPA are less than 1.5% of the savings from eliminating the highly dubious F-35.

        It is all well and good to go head hunting for programs that don’t fit in your personal political agenda, but keep in mind the Willie Sutton rule and go where the money is. That was why honest GOP financial analysts like Paul Ryan always said that to save money in any meaningful way while preserving and expanding the defense budget, we had to make big cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Of course that did not ever catch on, and Mr. Ryan is retiring having presided over one of the largest increases in the deficit in history, and the largest to occur not during a major recession or a major war.

        • Gotta start somewhere, Dept of Education and EPA is as good as any. Ripe, low hanging fruit…both of which have no grounds as Federal agencies, unlike our armed forces.

          • “Your plan for the Dept of Ed, of course, does not save a penny”. – Local township economist
            Those 4,000 D of E bureaucrats aren’t working for peanuts. Those costs are gone…100% savings.

          • Looks like you are getting confused again. You said you were going to send the entire $68 billion budget to the states. That budget includes all the money they pay to the employees. Their salaries are part of the department budget, not separate item. That means the proposal would not save a penny. literally. Whether the funds go to the states or are spent in Washington, they are still spent.

          • B.S. Gerald…Washington inherently takes a huge cut of whatever they take in and then pass out..the states less so…and local government even less so. Forget giving it to the states and pass the $68 billion on down to local school districts and magic would happen..

  8. It’s obvious Gerald, you’ve never worked for or in a successful business, or been held responsible for a budget. Every penny counts…and they add up.

    • Ranger, I was running a successful multi-million dollar business while you were still a probationary employee. The first lesson I learned was not to miss the forest for the trees. Every penny counts, but watching the big bucks is job one, because the big bucks add up even faster.

  9. Elanne Palcich says

    I think that Ranger 47 is getting ready to apply for a job in the Trump administration.

    • Interesting Elanne…Is that your real name by the way? I know a lot of Range names and Palcich doesn’t ring a bell. Aaron’s started to post commenters names, maybe in fairness he’ll post yours. But I digress.

      Back to your comment on joining the Trump organization. I’ve never given any monetary support to any political candidate in my life…until Trump. Can you believe that? The guy is worth millions/billions/trillions, who knows…and I send him a few dollars and he WINS! How weird, how fun is that..

      If you would’ve had a similar passion for Crooked Hillary and sent her some money, it might have made a difference, she might have broken her ankle in the White House…instead of far off India.

    • By God that might be your real name Elanne….living by Side Lake? If so, forgive me…you’re from the honest forthright generation.

  10. I think somebody should be getting Ranger ready for a bed for in an asylum.

    • I appreciate your concern Jackie but please don’t be overly troubled. I’m not that important. With or without me, the truth will win out. If kissa takes me up on my coffee offer, you’re welcome to join us. I’ll buy. I think we have more in common to discuss than you realize..

  11. You truly are delusional, Ranger.

  12. Joe musich says

    Hey non ranger you are pathetic. But even more frightening your polices. I am thinking you are not real but actually a troll. And how did Paul Ryan pay his way through school ? Yes he had social democratic protections. But a trolls binary existence would eliminate that variable wouldn’t it. So maybe in the end assigning pathos to you is inaaccurate but maybe non championship playing chess program robot loser would be more correct. But your joints are squeaking and when you rust will you be able to lubricate yourself ?

  13. Erin Good Luck Hopefully Family Court must be taken out of the Judiciary Judicial Abuse In the Matter of Sandra Grazzini Rucki in Ramsey Co. Workkhouse If Governors can appoint Judges, then Governors must Fire Judge Karen Asphaug for High Crimes Misdemeanors FURTHER These Judges complicit with County Attorneys and Sheriffs to Order Psyc Eval is Bizzare, Constutional Challenge of MS253 State Committment Panel, must be Abolished and Ruled Unconstutionalo.

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