Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) both offer “fellowships” on their presidential campaigns, and those positions are unpaid.
The Daily Beast reported Friday on the “Team Joe Organizing Fellowship” offered by the Biden campaign, which consists of an eight-week training in digital grassroots organizing to bolster Biden’s outreach program. The fellowship is unpaid, and does not offer academic credit. An internship, on the other hand, pays $15/hour and offers academic credit.
Sen. Warren also offers fellowships on her campaign that make no mention of salary or benefits. While Chris Hayden, Warren’s deputy communications director, told the Beast that Warren’s campaign interns are offered both academic credit and healthcare benefits along with their salary. Fellowships, on the other hand, come with “similar training and work experiences with a smaller time commitment.”
Hayden did not specify what that time commitment was, or what was expected of a campaign fellow.
Campaign Workers Guild executive council Renée Hagerty didn’t buy the “volunteer” part of the fellowships, saying that the key difference between a volunteer and a campaign worker is that “volunteers are asked to do something, workers are told.”
This isn’t the first time Democrats have come under fire for relying on unpaid labor. As Grit Post reported in December, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) posted an ad for an unpaid intern to work from his Senate office in Washington, DC. The unpaid intern would be charged with duties normally assigned to paid communications officers, like “compiling press clips, answering reporter inquiries, organizing press conferences, writing press releases, talking points and memos, conducting research and assisting the Press Staff with the day-to-day operations of a very active press office.”
“Applicants must work well under pressure,” the ad stated.
It isn’t against the law for political campaigns to take advantage of unpaid labor. An unnamed official with the Campaign Legal Center told the Beast that “Campaigns are given pretty broad leeway for how they spend their money.”
“They can provide any title they want,” the official said.
Still, it may not be good optics for a candidate like Sen. Warren — who is framing herself as a progressive champion of the working class — to rely on any unpaid labor for her presidential campaign, especially given the fact that she raised more than $19 million over just the last three months.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who is considered Warren’s chief rival among the left flank of the Democratic Party, is one of two major candidates with a unionized workforce (Julián Castro is the other). As Vox reported in May, Sanders’ campaign workers won a historic contract in which interns are paid $20/hour and healthcare benefits, campaign workers are given paid time off, and the highest-paid employee in any bargaining unit is prohibited from making more than three times the amount of the lowest-paid employee.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.