Classic … “do as we say, not as we do”…

clip_image002Classic … “do as we say, not as we do”…

A Progressive Fundraising Behemoth Faces Fresh Accusations of Unjust Labor Practices


Grassroots Campaigns canvasses for such non-profits as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union. But former employees say the organization has taken a hardline—and repressive—view of labor reform within its own ranks.



CIn early March of 2018, 23-year-old Gordon Shelton landed what he thought would be a meaningful job working as a canvasser for Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. in Seattle. Founded in 2003, GCI describes itself as "a progressive organization that specializes in running face-to-face campaigns for political parties, candidates, and advocacy groups." The company is headquartered in Boston and has offices across the country. Its clientele is composed primarily of Democratic political organizations and progressive non-profits—the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, even the Obama-Biden campaign—whom it offers services in fundraising, voter registration, volunteer recruitment, and advocacy. For someone like Shelton, it was a step into working for social change.

Shelton’s first assignments were canvassing for the Southern Poverty Law Center and Doctors Without Borders. It was his job to solicit random passersby on behalf of the organizations, ideally securing commitments from them for monthly contributions to the non-profits. But after just a month on the job, Shelton began to feel burned out. Although he appreciated the political aspect of the work, the pay was low and erratic, as it was pegged to a grueling quota system. Unsurprisingly, turnover was also very high, which took an emotional and practical toll on him, as he watched coworkers committed to their causes leave and continuously had to adjust to working on teams with new hires.

In an effort to obtain what they deemed livable wages and stable working conditions, Shelton and his coworkers turned their organizing skills inward to form a canvassers’ union. His coworkers told him stories of their appeals to management, which had fallen on deaf ears, leaving unionizing, in their minds, as the only reasonable option available. But that’s when, according to Shelton, GCI dropped its progressive facade and began a vicious union-busting campaign, which peaked with the closure of the entire Seattle office.

"About 15 of us were working there when the office was closed with only a few days’ notice," he says. "However, we were not formally notified that we had been laid off as individuals until a bargaining session on August 27th and 28th to discuss the effects of the closure."

GCI has on occasion worked with labor organizations. In 2016, it was contracted by Working America, the political organizing arm of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. Shelton also points out that the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, both clients of GCI, were founded by members of the Industrial Workers of the World–the union that he and his coworkers decided to affiliate with. GCI’s website even features a photo of its field director with the president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest union of public employees in the United States.

Yet despite taking on labor organizations as clients and staging photo shoots with them, GCI has a questionable history with its own employees. Nearly two dozen cases alleging unfair labor practices—most of them still open—have been filed against the company with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing it of a range of illegal behavior, including surveillance, threats, and firings. (GCI declined to comment for this story.

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