Get off the grassroots, Grassroots Campaigns Inc! DCCC drops GCI?

Let's speak frankly. It was only a matter of time before the right-wing blogs caught wind of Grassroots Campaigns Incorporated's workplace improprieties, its labor abuses in the name of the Democratic Party, and used them as ammo against the Left.

Yes, what Kate described in her post yesterday is awful; sadly, experiences of this type are not the exception, but the rule, as all of us vets well know. However, my curiosity was aroused not so much by the mistreatment she catalogued, but the fact that it seems some of the GCIers are actually standing up to this corrupt system.  It left me wanting to know more about what's going on up there in Madison, Wisconsin.

Outsourced Democratic canvassers--protesting their employer?
Because they're not getting paid minimum wage?

This is gonna get ugly.

Now, Greg has taken plenty of care to insist that GCI is not a scam--that it's just bad business and terrible karma. I more or less agree.  But now I find myself agreeing (oh Lord forgive me for typing this) with Powerline: it's unbearable hypocrisy.

When the grassroots fundraising arm of a host of Democratic Party institutions is accused of screwing over its young impressionables in ways that make Bush's VA budget cutbacks look genteel by comparison, what are the rank-and-file Dems and independents going to think? GCI's problems are now threatening to become a far larger image problem for the Left as a whole.

And here comes the ubiquitous counterargument:

Nobody's perfect.
What's the alternative?  
Start your own, why don't you.
It's hard work!
They mean well.
Rather us have a dysfunctional organization than none at all.

Oh you poor sweet bastards. Surely the DCCC--which actually has some concrete stakes in the matter--would see things with a little more clarity.

And on that note, good blogosphere, I have something to report. My old friend Garrit Fishbaum, compelled by the same curiosity as I, went ahead and called up the offices of Grassroots Campaigns Inc in Madison, Wisconsin--where, for all he knew, underpaid canvassers were picketing outside right that moment. On the phone, Garrit inquired about job opportunities with the DCCC. The transcript follows.

GCI: "Would you like to come in to an interview tomorrow?"
GF: "Well, actually, right now I'm just curious about what kind of work you are doing with the DCCC."
GCI: "OK, well, we are currently running a field program with the DCCC, doing direct fundraising for them as they get ready to take back Congress in the upcoming 2006 election. We are working with the DCCC through this Friday."
GF: "Wait--what happens after Friday?"
GCI: "Uh, we'll be picking up a different client at that point. It's in the works at this moment."
GF: "Oh. Which organization would that be?"
GCI: "Well you'll be able to find out more about it when you come in for an interview."
GF: "Um, could you tell me what happened to the DCCC contract?"
GCI: "Oh, well we can tell you about that too, when you come in for the interview."

(Garrit Fishbaum is based in New York City, but even if he was out there in Mad-town, he'd do no such thing. He did ask me to note the eerie insistence with which this GCIbot stuck to the "rope `em in" rap, even without a client to tie `em to.)

So it seems like the D-Trip may very well have taken a quick look at what was going on in its name down there, and dropped GCI like it's hot. If that is indeed the case, let me be the first to commend them for responding immediately to the situation.

After all, it's a tough thing to get your head around, if you don't know what you're looking at--young kids raising money for the Democratic Party on the street, why that's the greatest idea Terry McAuliffe ever heard! It's not easy at first to figure out that Doug Phelps has dressed his long-term base-building cow up in a bogus short-term election-busting mini-skirt. I won't blame these organizations for not knowing in advance what they were really getting into.

But I WILL hold them responsible for knowing full well what is going on and not taking action to address the problem.

Ahem, Democratic National Committee.
Ahem, MoveOn.

I'm sick of watching Greg mince his words in hope that someone takes this seriously.

Blogosphere, here's the bottom line: this business may be dirty laundry, but GCI has more soiled BVDs than most. Let's hang `em out now before they stink up the whole place.

GCI: start running a better canvass. Stop hurting those of us who only want a living wage in exchange for 60 - 100 hour weeks in the service of Democracy. Pay your people on time. Give them a day off. Don't lie to them, and don't lie to Democratic donors. Shape up or die.

--Evan Brown

Tags: canvassing, DNC, Fundraising, GCI, grassroots, minimum wage, poor sweet bastards (all tags)

Comments

23 Comments

Re: Get off the grassroots, Grassroots Campaigns I

WOw, its awsome to see that other people are starting to notice these atrocities.  I can't explain how happy it makes me to know that the DCCC has wisened up...

As person working my bum off to have a career in grassroots politics, it seriously pains me that GCI is destroying an entire generation of others like me.  

Now its time for Moveon and DNC to do the same.

by Future Senator D 2006-09-06 07:38PM | 0 recs
Re: Get off the grassroots, Grassroots Campaigns I

Erm, "atrocities" is probably too strong a word. But yes.

by campaign06 2006-09-06 07:50PM | 0 recs
These words are not minced.

A DCCC source confirmed with me today that their contract with GCI has been terminated.

by greg bloom 2006-09-06 07:52PM | 0 recs
Re: These words are not minced.

Wow!  It is sad that it took them breaking the law to get someone to drop the contract.  All of the poor treatment, below living wage and inefficient work wasn't enough.  It was a public blowout and protests.  Now will others follow suit.  The getting them to work for free for a day as a so called 2nd interview is total crap and it amazing that this was SOP.

How did they possibly think they were following the law?

by juls 2006-09-06 08:02PM | 0 recs
Re: These words are not minced.

Oh boy, this one will really get me accused of drinking the koolade, but...

First, IANAL (I am not a lawyer) and this does not come from my experience working for GCI, but I am in law school, and have taken some basic labor courses, and am doing an internship for a department of labor administrative law judge, so I think I can clarify this a bit...

As far as I can tell, the GCI/PIRG pay policy is not illegal.  I'm not saying it is right, or good PR, or productive, or not very hypocritical for a progressive organization.  I'm just saying it is not illegal.

There is an "outside sales" exception to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  As canvassers work outside, and more then 20% of their work is sales, they fall under the exception.  See Nielsen v. Devry, Inc. 302 F.Supp.2d 747 (W.D.Mich.,2003.).

I've looked for ANY case smacking down the GCI/PIRG pay model as being illegal, and have yet to find one.  If someone can point to something beyond an offhand comment in a news article as support for the pay policy being illegal, that would be a big step forward.  Personally, I think that there is an argument to be made that canvassing is not "sales" as there is no exchange for consideration.  See 29 U.S.C. § 203(k).  Again, I'm still quite far from being a lawyer, and as far as I can tell no one has ever successfully advanced that argument in court, so there is probably something I'm missing.

All this is not to say that clients can't force GCI or other groups to go beyond what the law requires, and I do think that is a productive route.  Just remember that labor protection in this country really, really sucks.  

by dansomone 2006-09-07 06:43PM | 0 recs
Re: These words are not minced.

sorry, clarification.  the rule is at least 80% of the job has to be outside sales to fall into the exception.

Not 20%.

by dansomone 2006-09-07 07:04PM | 0 recs
Re: These words are not minced.

MoveOn, we're waiting....

by buffalo girl 2006-09-07 03:42AM | 0 recs
Hopefully DNC and MoveOn follows suit...

Wow, I am seriously impressed that the DCCC did this so quickly. Anyone know how long pressure had been on them? Greg?

Now the DNC and MoveOn should follow suit.

by bridgetdooley 2006-09-07 02:36PM | 0 recs
Re: Get off the grassroots, Grassroots Campaigns I

Do we know that the DCCC dropped them because of the conditions GCI creates for its workers, or because GCI didn't raise enough money? Let's not celebrate DCCC if they simply looked at the bottom line. Their silence is suspect; if they were making a stand for workers' rights and were building a true party-building grassroots program, wouldn't they let us know?

by domma 2006-09-07 03:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Get off the grassroots, Grassroots Campaigns I

they may be trying to NOT draw attention to the association - so a quiet separation may have been the best for them...

by steveolson 2006-09-08 10:33AM | 0 recs
how do you solve the problems?

becuse the concept seems great. Letting people be invested in the dem party so that they get more involved or have a sense of ownership.

But how do you solve it?  all i hear are complaints.  

I thought grassroot is not really a job but a involvement to take your country back.

by jasmine 2006-09-07 06:42PM | 0 recs
Re: how do you solve the problems?

Hi Jasmine, welcome back.
I laid out a proposal for a more progressive canvass model here in this post. That would only be a start -- but even directors who ran the canvass for years have agreed that this would be a big step toward a better model.

At the end of that post, I explained that there are only two ways for the canvass to begin to get better (since GCI/Fund is an entirely unaccountable system). Those two ways are: 1) the clients can demand a better canvass or withhold their business; 2) the workers can organize and demand that the problems be solved. Both of those things have just happened here.

You hear complaints. I hear protest. You hear beef. I hear people trying to make it better. Do you believe in the idea of social change and social justice? Do you consider yourself a progressive?

by greg bloom 2006-09-07 07:00PM | 0 recs
Re: how do you solve the problems?

I just read the link diary.  You give good suggestions.

The only info I have about CGI is from you and the diaries and comments I read here.  

I havent heard the side of CGI.

I like the 50 state Strategy of Gov Dean and want to make it work.  (I supported him in the primaries too).  

by jasmine 2006-09-08 07:50PM | 0 recs
Re: how do you solve the problems?

I actually wrote about "GCI's side" of the story here in my response to "Strip-Mining the Grassroots."

I speak with the authority of having built the company from the ground up, and even though it's been a year since I've left, I can tell you that you're not hearing any other part of their side of the "story" because their best defense is silence.

by Lockse 2006-09-09 08:58AM | 0 recs
Awesome News - Podcast

That is great news.

On this topic, I recorde a podcast this week with Dana Fisher, author of a newly published book: Activism, Inc.: How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns is  Strangling the Progressive Movement.

Dana focuses on a different canvassing outfit - The People's Project, but very intelligently hones in on much of what is being discussed here.  She also gets into how these canvassing projects are really dead-end jobs for people trying to break into the progressive movement.  Even the directors of these groups - those who "make it to the top" - rarely get picked up by the organizations that do the outsourcing.

The podcast will be posted on Monday or Tuesday at Future Majority.  I'll repost about it here as soon as it goes live.

Great news about the D-trip dropping GCI.

by Mike Connery 2006-09-08 06:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Awesome News - Podcast
There is an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that discusses Dana Fisher's research.    Subscription required.

Sixteen years ago, after completing her freshman year at Princeton University, Dana R. Fisher had such a summer job, and she loved it. Over time, however, she has reluctantly concluded that professionalized canvassing operations like the one she worked for in 1990 are poisonous to liberal social movements and unhealthy for American democracy as a whole.


.....


Because the American left relies so heavily on paid canvassers and has developed so few organically rooted local organizations, Ms. Fisher argues, it suffers in comparison with the neighborhood- and church-based groups that conservatives have built during the last 30 years. "Laying sod in the form of outsourced political workers and imported volunteers," she writes, "cannot compete with true grass-roots connections among like-minded neighbors."


.....


Ms. Fisher's book is not simply inside baseball for liberal activists. Her study touches on longstanding and highly contentious debates in sociology and political science: Has political and civic engagement declined in the United States, or has it simply changed? If civic engagement has in fact declined, has the decline been caused by the professionalization of nonprofit organizations or by the erosion of local political machines, or both? "The canvass is based around a formula that is quite dysfunctional," says Harry C. Boyte, co-director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and a leading critic of managerialism in the political world. "The canvass has weakened progressives' participation in a healthier kind of emerging civic politics."

by Taylor26 2006-09-08 09:00AM | 0 recs
Re: Get off the grassroots, Grassroots Campaigns I

ok ok ok ok i posted on the DK about it. come toggle my rec button, bitchezzzz!!1!

by little brudda 2006-09-08 08:11AM | 0 recs
Re: Get off the grassroots, Grassroots Campaigns I

Gayle Roberts weighs on Fundraising for Non-Profits.

by greg bloom 2006-09-08 09:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Get off the grassroots

Good news to be sure.

Phelps, you've gone way too far. The greatest folly being in the fact that many of the activists you hired/fired might be interested in a little activism of their own.

This is certainly not an isolated issue, and it's certainly not something your former employees are going to ever be quiet about as long as poor working conditions continue.

by EMRosa 2006-09-08 09:34AM | 0 recs
FYI

Although it might be the case that the DCCC dropped GCI (see Greg's comment above), it's also quite normal for GSI/FFPIR groups to switch contracts every couple of months.  

by Matt Lockshin 2006-09-08 10:43PM | 0 recs
Re: FYI

GCI told us OGs back in the day that Terry McA went to Doug Phelps and asked him to create a company for DNC canvassing. (GCI has a lying problem, so the truth could be something else.)From there, other clients came.  My point is that the main pulse of GCI's fundraising has been the relationship with the Democratic party. The OXFAMS may come and go. In the meantime, it's two months before the election. The DCCC made the decision to drop this campaign awful quick!

by GCILies 2006-09-09 05:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Get off the grassroots, Grassroots Campaigns I

You have convinced me.  "You doth protest to much."   I have just sent a contribution to the grass root organization.  I watch the news and everywhere I see conservatives telling us that what we are witnessing isn't true.  I'm embarrassed.  Thanks to this administration I have changed my politics completely.  I've decided I want to be a liberal.

by riddle01 2006-09-28 08:11AM | 0 recs
Re: Get off the grassroots, Grassroots Campaigns I

GREAT example here of how uninformed you are! Insiders information: The DCCC was dropped because of state party tension- as in the problem was with the clients rx to the state, not GCI. GCIs client list grows.

by jigsah hooha 2007-02-05 03:54AM | 0 recs

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