How Do You Fight Exploitation On Political Campaigns? Unionize!


I’ve always understood the appeal of working on a political campaign – who could pass up the chance to make an impact on the issues we care about most?

It turns out, a lot of people. The more friends I spoke to about campaign work, the more I realized that campaigns have a serious issue with how they treat their workers. We are expected to fight for candidates who speak eloquently about supporting unions all while asking us to work without employee protections. Yet we do it, because this idea of sacrificing for the “cause” is a potent one.

Alex Pellitteri

And so we toil away, at least 12 hours a day, six days per week. We knock on stranger’s doors, ask people to donate their time and their money, and then spend the rest of the day staring at spreadsheets and doing data entry. To put it simply, the work is grueling. As election day nears, it all intensifies, as do our stress and anxiety levels. Very few jobs are spent preparing for one day yet, for us, the 15-hour period when the polls are open determine the outcome of our work. Do we win and have our hard work pay off, winning our candidate an elected office? Or do we lose and not only find a roadblock in our greater efforts at impacting change, but also find ourselves suddenly unemployed?

All of this lays a fertile ground for exploitation and such a work environment can quickly burn out even the most passionate activists. So how do we stop this? We can start by replacing hollow rhetoric with meaningful actions, and I am proud to be working on a campaign that does just that.

As Ross Barkan’s campaign coordinator, I am a member of one of the first campaigns in New York to have unionized. This is an action born out of working for a candidate who recognizes that all wealth is a result of labor and that winning a campaign requires an inclusive movement. That’s why he supported us and encouraged us to unionize. Although it costs more on our already tight budget, our contract provides healthcare, personal reimbursements, and days off.

And it’s not just a pleasure to work in politics with someone who lives their values, it is also what gives our victory actual meaning. Labor rights won on the back of labor violations are not victories at all, they are simply an exchange of one group’s oppression for another’s.

So when you’re handed a palm card as you walk into the polls on September 13, remember to look past a politician’s policies for the future and ask yourselves: what are their practices for the present?

Alex Pellitteri is the Ross Barkan for State Senate Campaign Coordinator.