Why the Fund/PIRG and Grassroots Campaigns Inc went so wrong for so long

It has been more than six months since I last wrote about this subject. Recent events warrant an epilogue of sorts. This was cross-posted from Future Majority.

The Fund for Public Interest Research (FFPIR, or 'the Fund,' as it is commonly known) deploys thousands of canvassers each year onto streets and at doors to raise money for dozens of liberal non-profit organizations. Its 'sister' company, Grassroots Campaigns Inc (GCI), has major contracts with the DNC, the ACLU, MoveOn, and the League of Conservation Voters.

The Fund is also being sued by a class of its former employees for systemic labor infractions.

Now before we really dive in here, it's important to establish two more facts.

1. FFPIR has already been found in violation of labor law by the California State Labor Commission. You can find the Commission's ruling here (in PDF).

2. Soon after the canvasser class action suit was filed, the Fund changed its labor policies. Reportedly, the policies now ensure that all canvassers get paid at least minimum wage, plus overtime for all hours of work over 40 a week. The policies now ensure its employees have a half hour lunch break, and short breaks during the day. All additional "campaign work" is now made explicitly clear to be volunteer. (Maggie Mead broke this news yesterday, but as they say, she buried the lede.)

It is good to know that the largest direct fundraising apparatus on the Left now adheres to fundamental labor laws. Of course, the sudden and explicit establishment of these policies is also a tacit admission that for many years--up to two decades or more--the largest employer on the Left has been breaking these laws.

How could this have happened for so long?

Why did it change now?

What does it mean for the future of these organizations?

In this piece, I am going to posit some answers to those questions. If you want to learn more about the Fund's operation, about the story of the canvassers who demanded change to it and ultimately filed suit, or about the for-profit sister Grassroots Campaigns Inc, please look to the reporting I did last year on MyDD and DailyKos.

There's more...

Banned: How Organizing Against PIRG, Fund, and GCI got me kicked off Facebook

This is cross-posted at Future Majority where Mike Connery asked me to help fill in for him - but I'm bringing it here too since so much of this issue was discussed on this site.

It took me a while to pick up on this whole Facebook business, but when I finally did... WOO what a blast!  While it lasted anyway.

See, not so long after I logged on for the first time, Facebook shut down my account.
But I don't hold it against them. I wasn't playing by their rules -- it's fair, and it's square.  
So I got some explaining to do.

Now, I was virtually dragged into Facebook--and when I finally joined it, it wasn't just to post silly pictures and update my status. I joined to organize.

I was organizing a group of people who have been institutionally exploited for years, but who have not previously had any viable way to speak up for themselves. This group is comprised of young, progressive activists--fellow veterans of the Fund for Public Interest Research, Public Interest Research Groups, and Grassroots Campaigns Incorporated.

There's more...

Fund for Public Interest Research class action lawsuit

My name is Christian Miller. I was a canvasser in the Los Angeles Fund for Public Interest Research office from 2002 through 2006.  I raised money for Sierra Club, Human Rights Campaign, Greenpeace, Save the Children, and numerous PIRG groups.  More than two years ago, our office voted to unionize; one year ago this week, the Fund finally shut us down.  This sequence of events was profiled in In These Times magazine, and in Greg Bloom's "Canvassers Union" series here on DailyKos and MyDD.

I'm writing today because I, along with several former LA canvassers, and ex-employees of the Fund from across the country, have filed a class action lawsuit against the Fund.

There's more...

The Canvassers Union (conclusion): Toward the Reform of the Fund/PIRG

This series is an expansion of my reporting inIn These Times magazine (August 18th, "Do You Have a Minute For...?") about two offices of the Fund for Public Interest Research that voted to unionize and were subsequently shut down.
As I noted in the first post, the Fund is perhaps the single largest employer of progressive activists in the country - through the entire PIRG/Fund world, thousands of would-be progressive leaders pass every year.

Part Two of the series introduced the Los Angeles door canvassers who "broke the Fund/PIRG model" by staying with their jobs for the long-term.

Part Three traced the path that led them to petition and vote for a union.

Part Four introduced the Los Angeles Telephone Outreach Project employees, who raise the "real money" in the Fund/PIRG model, and who followed the callers' lead toward a union.

Part Five is about how each of these unions was busted by the Fund management.

Part Six is about a series of questions raised by the callers and canvassers about the viability of the PIRG/Fund corporate complex.

Lockse, an 8 year PIRG/Fund veteran, wrote a compelling "tough love" response to these incidences here.

This post reports on the conclusion of the LA callers and canvassers' saga. It reflects upon the broader possibility for change that is revealed and made urgent by the stories of the LA Fund offices.

I realize that this issue is not quite at the top of MyDD readers' must-read lists, perhaps because it is about a group of people who are not in the media, not in office or fighting for office, and not online. But think of it this way: if the blogosphere is the intelligentsia of the nascent progressive movement, these fundraisers are its toiling proletariat. Vital, but nearly invisible; in dire need of empowerment. This issue might not be as glamorous as setting the progressive agenda for the next two years, but it shapes the generation of our activists and affects the health of our grassroots for the decades to come...

There's more...

The Canvassers Union (p6): the Questions

This series is an expansion of my reporting inIn These Times magazine (August 18th, "Do You Have a Minute For...?") about two offices of the Fund for Public Interest Research that voted to unionize and were subsequently shut down.

As I noted in the first post, the Fund is perhaps the single largest employer of progressive activists in the country - through the entire PIRG/Fund world, thousands of would-be progressive leaders pass every year.

Part Two of the series introduced the Los Angeles door canvassers who "broke the Fund/PIRG model" by staying with their jobs for the long-term.

Part Three traced the path that led them to petition and vote for a union.

Part Four introduced the Los Angeles Telephone Outreach Project employees, who raise the "real money" in the Fund/PIRG model, and who followed the callers' lead toward a union.

Part Five is about how each of these unions was busted by the Fund management.

Lockse, an 8 year PIRG/Fund veteran, wrote a compelling "tough love" response to these incidences here.

This post is about the questions that the callers and canvassers are asking about the PIRG/Fund network. It is a long list of questions, some of which are answered -- many of which are not.

I realize that this issue is not quite at the top of MyDD readers' must-read lists, perhaps because it is about a group of people who are not in the media, not in office or fighting for office, and not online. But think of it this way: if the blogosphere is the intelligentsia of the nascent progressive movement, these fundraisers are its toiling proletariat. Vital, but nearly invisible; in dire need of empowerment. This issue might not be as glamorous as setting the progressive agenda for the next two years, but it shapes the generation of our activists and affects the health of our grassroots for the decades to come...

There's more...

Diaries

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