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Does the Democratic Party Exploit Employees Doing Phone Fundraising?

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Photo by David | CC BY 2.0

I was home on July 4 when my phone rang.  Once again, I was being solicited for money.  This time, the voice on the other end was a real person trying to raise funds for a Democratic Party congressional organization.  In their lust for money, Democrats were having people work on a “sacred” national holiday.

We started talking about Trump’s policies, his racism, sexism, and other prejudices.  I pointed out that I reject what Trump is doing, but that I also felt much the same way about Obama’s policies including his increases in military spending, his efforts towards spending a trillion dollars during the next 30 years to modernize the U.S. nuclear capability, his failures to address poverty and homelessness, his support for fracking and drilling for oil.

The caller responded that despite Obama being prevented from achieving more, we did get the Affordable Care Act.  I acknowledged that numerous people have benefitted from it even though many still lack insurance, and said that many of those who have policies do not receive proper medical care because they can’t afford to pay for the high deductibles or co-payments. Furthermore, its implementation has been a huge subsidy for the insurance and drug industries.

Troubled, she asked if I was a Republican.  I explained that I live in California and am registered with the Peace and Freedom Party.  She suggested I am lucky to live in California, as if it is an ideal place compared to most of the rest of the country, especially since it is dominated by the Democrats.  I tried to explain that the image people have of California is not always accurate— Californians have a high cost of living with many people being homeless, experiencing environmental degradation and enduring other woes.

And then, we started talking about her work situation.  I was concerned she would get in trouble talking with me when there was no way I would be making a donation.  She replied that wasn’t a problem since she is supposed to learn about people’s concerns.  Perhaps the policy is to engage people with the hope they will soften up and decide to give money which she again asked for at the end of our conversation.

She clarified that she does not work directly for the Democrat Party.  Instead, she works for a private company with whom this Democratic group has a contract.  She is paid her states minimum hourly wage, barely above $8/hour.  I questioned her ability to live on so little money.  She chimed in saying she has kids and that, fortunately, her husband has a job because what she is paid covers little of their expenses.  I replied that at her rate of pay, she would come up short trying to cover the cost of renting a cheap apartment in San Francisco even if her entire paycheck went only towards rent.

She said that those who do phone fundraising for Republicans probably get paid more.  I replied I did not think so.

This conversation raised a lot of issues.  To what extent do the Democrats contract out with private companies for their fundraising?  Do these companies scandalously pay significantly less than a living wage?  If so, how can we expect the Democrats to address crucial problems facing our society if they allow for people working on their behalf to be paid so little?

Before saying goodbye, I encouraged her to get together with co-workers and inform the press  about their level of pay, and, more significantly, organize themselves to fight for a living wage.

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Rick Baum teaches Political Science at City College of San Francisco. He is a member of AFT 2121.

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