In a stinging public rebuke, a contingent of field organizers for the progressive youth mobilization group NextGen America called on the group’s management on Monday evening to end a month of “stalling” and agree to the employees’ terms for union recognition.
“While NextGen America’s field staff continue breaking turnout records in the ten states we organize, our management is siding with the GOP’s union-busting tactics,” the staff union said in a statement posted on social media.
Although NextGen America insists it has already recognized the union and is merely haggling over details, the public feud complicates the presidential campaign plans of Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge fund manager and liberal megadonor who founded and continues to fund NextGen America.
Steyer announced Tuesday he has reconsidered his decision not to seek the Democratic presidential nomination and will join the 2020 primary race. Even though he is not involved in day to day management of NextGen America, the association with a group accused of anti-union tactics distracts from Steyer’s announcement. (Steyer plans to resign his formal leadership posts at NextGen America and Need to Impeach, a separate group he founded promoting the impeachment of President Donald Trump.)
“It’s important as a progressive organization that we are living our values,” said Violet Kilmurray, a regional organizing director based in the Milwaukee area. “It’s important for workers to feel empowered and that we are valued as a team and that our voices are valued too so we are part of making our organization and its culture better.”
Kilmurray and Isabella Dickens-Bowman, a NextGen America organizer based in Manchester, New Hampshire, declined to comment on Steyer’s presidential ambitions. They denied that their decision to go public on Monday evening was timed to maximize pressure for recognition. They claim to have notified management a week ago of their plans to go public on Monday barring a resolution before that.
NextGen youth vote director Ben Wessel released a statement saying that the organization had already recognized the union, but was merely waiting for third-party verification that the union had garnered majority support.
The union told HuffPost it already agreed to let a third party verify majority support on cards completed by employees, though management said it has yet to be presented with a detailed plan for implementing the verification process.
NextGen America spokeswoman Heather Greven confirmed that the dispute is chiefly over which employees are eligible for the union. The organization’s leaders consider many of the higher-level organizers to have enough supervisory capacity that they should be classified as managers and be excluded from the union.
“We fully expect to sign a [collective bargaining agreement]. We’re in a fact-finding process,” Greven said. “Unionization efforts do not happen overnight.”
The conflicting accounts of what has occurred since organizers asked management for voluntary union recognition on June 7 reflect disagreements over the size of a bargaining unit that are common in the early stages of a union recognition process.
What heightens the stakes of the dispute is that it is occurring within the boundaries of a progressive organization that regularly collaborates with labor unions ― to say nothing of one founded by Steyer, who has for years aligned with the Democratic Party’s pro-labor wing.
“Democracy starts in the workplace,” Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson tweeted at NextGen America. “Don’t pretend you’re for the people of this planet if you’re not for your own worker’s rights!”
Kilmurray and Dickens-Bowman said that the organizers’ reasons for forming a union run the gamut from concerns about their health care coverage to excessively long hours and lack of adequate time off. But one common theme is the belief that things will not improve without the support of a union capable of speaking with one voice on their behalf.
“Since we are spread out across different states and campuses across the country, it can be very difficult when everyone is subject to different expectations,” Dickens-Bowman said. “Personal well-being can fall by the wayside in the interest of getting things done.”
The contingent of employees claims that a strong majority of the field organizing team has completed cards expressing their interest in affiliating with the Campaign Workers Guild, an independent union formed by alumni of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential run that is not affiliated with a large national union.
The employees and their union claim that management wants to exclude regional organizing directors and organizing directors from the bargaining unit ― positions they say amount to 80% of current field staff.
Dickens-Bowman and Kilmurray, who is herself a regional organizing director, maintain that while the higher-level positions have the façade of genuine supervisory authority, their actual power is more akin to that of rank-and-file employees.
Greven could not confirm the alleged ratio of employees that management is seeking to exclude from the unit, though she acknowledged that they believe many of the employees seeking to unionize have managerial responsibilities that would make them ineligible to join the union. She also emphasized that when the election season begins to heat up in the coming months, NextGen American plans to hire hundreds of rank-and-file field organizers, which will increase the number of undisputed bargaining unit members.
“Our organization has always fully supported our workers’ rights to organize. We will not tolerate intimidation or any sort of retaliation,” Greven said.
NextGen America Launches the Largest Ever Battleground State Youth Vote Campaign for 2020 11.18.2019 San Francisco, CA — Today, NextGen America announced an initial investment of $45 million to launch the largest youth organizing campaign in American history ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Across 11 states, NextGen America will register, engage, and mobilize young voters (ages 18-35) to remove Donald Trump from the White House, flip the Senate, and elect progressives up and down the ballot. NextGen’s program will target nearly five million voters in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin with on-the-ground field organizing on campuses and in communities, innovative digital tactics, and experiment-informed direct mail. Young people will account for nearly 40% of all eligible voters in 2020, and NextGen America’s program could determine the margin of victory from the top of the ticket to state legislatures.
“Yet again, it’s going to come down to young Americans to save the country,” said NextGen America Executive Director Ben Wessel “NextGen America’s 2020 program will beat Trump, flip the Senate, and make sure that our generation has a prayer at a livable planet with a more equitable economy. We absolutely cannot afford to lose this year.”
NextGen America’s record-setting $45 million program will register at least 270,000 young people to vote and gather at least 330,000 commitments to vote among young people who are already registered to vote. With an estimated on-the-ground staff of over 600 by Election Day, NextGen America’s 2020 program will achieve record turnout of young people while maintaining the 2-to-1 Democratic ballot advantage voters aged 18-35 delivered in 2018.
In addition to expansive voter registration and turnout programs, NextGen America’s 2020 program will prevent third-party defection by young people and turn out voters for key U.S. Senate and state legislative elections, which will determine which party holds power for the next decade.
Through this young voter campaign, NextGen America will organize young people in some of the most critical battleground states and toss-up races across the country, including:
Ensuring that voters in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin reject the racist and divisive politics of Donald Trump and elect a Democrat to the White House. Removing GOP Senators Ernst (IA), Tillis (NC), McSally (AZ), and Collins (ME) while defending frontline Democratic Senators Peters (MI) and Shaheen (NH).
Defending Democratic Governor Cooper (NC) and removing Republican Governor Sununu (NH). Flipping state legislative chambers that will help determine redistricting in Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Building on successes from 2018, NextGen’s 2020 campaign will marry an on-the-ground field campaign with more than 600 staff by Fall 2020 with a risk-taking digital campaign that will reach young people where they are at: online and on their phones. NextGen will develop breakthrough digital ads and partner with the digital brands and publishers that are already reaching target audiences to motivate young people to cast ballots. Beyond paid ads, NextGen will recruit at least 3,000 “micro-influencers” to communicate with their own audiences of young people who already trust their opinions on all things from politics to fashion. NextGen will also encourage our voters and volunteers to start conversations with their own social media friends and followers, conversations that will be able to break through the disinformation and noise that will be prevalent in 2020.
NextGen America will focus on a bloc of roughly 4.7 million key young people who can shape the electoral outcome of 2020. These voters are likely to be progressive but are less than likely to cast a ballot in 2020 without a concerted campaign focusing on their issues and needs. Nearly half of this target audience is people of color, who too often go overlooked by traditional political outreach strategy. NextGen is committed to recruiting volunteers and staff members of color to organize communities of color on issues that directly affect them. Boosting turnout among young Black, Latinx, Asian American, and Native communities with authentic stories and messengers is one of the ways NextGen America is building a diverse and powerful coalition of progressive voters who hold the power to swing elections if activated.
In 2015 the nonprofit launched by environmentalist Tom Steyer is shutting down its climate and energy program, in a likely signal that the billionaire is shifting resources to his organization’s political arm ahead of the presidential elections.
The move doesn’t mean Steyer is giving up on his pledges to make the environment and climate change major campaign themes in 2016. In fact, it indicates that Steyer will probably shift more resources away from his organization’s policy arm and toward its political efforts, including his super PAC NextGen Climate Action.
Next Generation is a nonpartisan think tank focused on policy research on climate change, children and families, Steyer’s top priorities, and played a key role in promoting Proposition 39, a California clean energy ballot initiative that passed in 2012. But his super PAC is the part of the organization that has turned him into an increasingly prominent player in liberal Democratic politics.
Steyer contributed more than $65 million of his own money toward the super PAC’s efforts to sway seven key gubernatorial and Senate races last year, though most of his favored candidates lost. Despite that setback, top Steyer political strategist Chris Lehane boasted at the time that the group had created “one of the biggest political infrastructures in the country in the key ’16 states.”
In announcing the decision by the nonprofit’s board to dismantle its energy program, Gordon said in her email that the group’s California-based energy policy operations would shift to NextGen Climate America, a nonprofit led by Natural Resources Defense Council climate advocacy veteran Dan Lashof and “co-located with Tom Steyer’s political organization, NextGen Climate Action.”
Steyer has taken on a growing political profile in recent years, beginning with his successful eight-figure investment in electing Democratic pro-climate candidates in 2013, and he’s been rumored to be harboring dreams of a political run himself someday — though he declined in January to seek the Senate seat that California Democrat Barbara Boxer is vacating.
Steyer’s prominence has, in turn, heightened the visibility of the NextGen Climate portions of his network. And a person familiar with the issue said Steyer World has been in discussions about what to do with Next Generation for about six months.
“It really was an efficiency move honestly more than anything,” the person said. “It’s a mistake to keep things alive just to keep things alive. Strategically I think it’s the right thing now.”
The person added that there were no “mass layoffs” and, because the move was a long time coming, many of Next Generation’s small staff has already found other jobs.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to explain to prospective donors the difference between Steyer’s growing network of organizations, the person said, especially as Steyer’s political arm is ramping up fundraising ahead of 2016.
In her email, which was dated Tuesday, Gordon said that “the great work our team has accomplished here at Next Generation — work focused primarily on bringing new voices and new allies into the fight against climate change and for a cleaner, more sustainable economy — will continue.”
In addition to her work as a senior adviser to Steyer, Gordon served as the first executive director of the Risky Business project, an initiative focused on the economic risks of climate change that Steyer founded along with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. Gordon added in her email that Risky Business would be spun off as a separate group, based in New York, for which she would serve as a consultant in its early days.