First State House Campaign to Unionize; All University of Minnesota Student Workers

Running for Minnesota House Representative in District 62A, Omar Fateh’s campaign became the first state legislature campaign in the nation to unionize. Fateh’s campaign workers consist entirely of University of Minnesota Twin Cities undergraduate students, with one student who just graduated this month. This marks the first all-student unit to unionize with the Campaign Workers Guild, announced the Guild in a press release on May 21.

“Students today face rising debt and stagnant wages, and many promising activists and public servants are driven out of politics because they can’t find jobs with good pay and benefits,” said Isaiah Ogren, Fateh’s Deputy Campaign Manager, in the press release.

The agreement was negotiated and designed with the student workers in mind. The workers receive an education stipend of $50 a month; a $15 minimum wage, with full-time workers receiving $18; travel reimbursement, which includes public transit and other alternatives if public transit isn’t available; reimbursement of on-the-job cellphone damages; and a bonus if the campaign wins the primary, said Union Steward Austin Berger, an undergraduate at the U of M. Student-centric negotiations allow campaign work and careers in politics to become more feasible to students and those who do not have the privilege of undertaking unpaid internships.

“It’s novel that we’re doing this,” said Berger. This collective bargaining agreement is historic and precedent setting, not only for campaign workers, but student workers as well. Unionizing campaigns, especially smaller ones where there isn’t always a steady flow of income or large donations, isn’t very orthodox, Berger continued.

The Campaign Workers Guild, established in 2017, aims to strengthen the rights of campaign workers. Such rights include livable hours and wages, and the ability to report abuses without fear of retaliation. The temporary nature of campaign jobs makes it difficult to advocate for these rights, but they are much needed as “campaign workers routinely work more than twice the standard workweek for less than minimum wage and no health care benefits,” said the Guild on its website.

This is not the first time the Campaign Workers Guild has coordinated with Minnesota workers. In March of this year, Erin Murphy’s campaign became the first gubernatorial campaign in the country to unionize. Soon after, in April, Minnesota’s second collective bargaining agreement was ratified for the workers on the Adam Jennings for Congress campaign.

The ratification of the collective bargaining agreement with Fateh’s campaign is a legally binding contract and ensures the negotiations are recognized. The students are conscious of the nature of campaign work and the vulnerability of student workers who are “particularly prone to exploitation,” said Ihaab Syed, Secretary of the Campaign Workers Guild, in the press release.

The student campaign workers approached Fateh with the idea of unionization before reaching out to the Campaign Workers Guild. He was supportive of the idea and it was a “great way to show voters he’s serious” about the values he promotes, said Berger. The workers then contacted the Guild and were connected with a representative.

Fateh has a history of community activism that includes involvement in the VoteYes4Kids and 15Now initiatives. He believes in racial equality, free public education, and providing training for high-paying jobs, according to his campaign website. While union negotiations are often thought of as workers versus management, Fateh was the worker’s biggest advocate throughout the process, said Berger.

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