Fund for Public Interest Research class action lawsuit
by ChristianMiller, Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 03:53:38 PM EDT
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.
After Greg's reporting, there was a tremendous surge of interest among former Fund employees in trying to do something the systemic labor abuse within the Fund -- but, since the client organizations that use the Fund would rather ignore the conditions that persist among their own fundraisers, pressing charges seemed to be the only available option to finally hold the Fund accountable.
We have many problems with the Fund's management structure and employment policies, but in one area they are clearly violating the law: hour by hour, Fund employees (especially field managers) frequently work for what amounts to less than minimum wage. Often, those hours are spent doing work that is not an essential part of their job description - work that is supposedly "voluntary," but which the employees are made to feel is mandatory.
Our case contests the Fund's (il)legal classification of its canvassers as "outside sales." As a long-time canvasser who loved to speak with people about important issues even if only to make them think about these things for a few moments, I find this classification sadly ironic. It allows the Fund to pay its canvassers only based on what they take in at the door. But the Fund also demands that its canvassers come early for trainings, stay late for administration, stay later for "social events," and even come in on weekends to "volunteer" by passing out petition postcards. (Supposedly, those postcards are going to be used to lobby for social change, but effectively they are just an underhanded way to grow Telefund's phone lists.) So many unpaid work hours not only is a drag that burns out more people than it should; it also creates an environment in which the canvassers are treated as if they are owned by the organization and must simply subsist while sacrificing themselves for it.
We believe that a canvass model can survive--and in fact, would make for better canvassing--if canvassers were paid appropriately for the hours in which they worked.
Any canvasser or Field Manager who worked for the Fund between December 2003 and now is eligible to join this lawsuit. If you worked in New York as far back as 2000, you are eligible. The lawyers are currently collecting all the information they can, so if you are eligible (or even if you are not, but would like to help the case out in some way) please contact them:
The law suit's web site: http://www.thefundovertimelawsuit.com/
Their phone number: (415)434-9800
They will just ask you some purely technical questions about the nature of the job- i.e. what hours you worked, what your duties were, who supervised you, whom you supervised, etc -- nothing uncomfortable, or self-incriminating. It should take twenty minutes or so. Call up and ask for Andrew Lee, and he'll answer any of your questions and let you know how you can help.
Just as important- if you know other people who worked for the Fund during these periods of time, please pass this on to them as well, and encourage them to get in touch with the lawyers, or with me.
I know that this issue seems sort of off topic for this website, but these blogs were the site of much of the discussion about PIRG and Grassroots Campaigns Inc, which runs campaigns for MoveOn, the Democratic National Committee, the ACLU and so on. Since GCI is basically built on the Fund's model, this has a lot to do with those organizations. Ultimately, if the vendor for the better part of the progressive Left loses a major labor law suit, it smells rank. And from what I know of the GCI veterans, they're almost as incensed about that organization as we were about the Fund. We'll keep posting updates on these blogs as the case progresses.