For-profit

Grassroots Campaigns Inc. (GCI)

Website:

grassrootscampaigns.com

Location:

Boston, MA

DUNS Number:

00-355-2137

Formation:

2003

Type:

Left-Leaning Political Consulting Firm

Director:

Sue Morgan

Grassroots Campaigns Inc. (GCI) is a for-profit grassroots campaign organization which works for left-of-center advocacy groups. GCI has been called the “for-profit clone” of the Public Interest Network (PIN), a controversial left-of-center advocacy network that oversees the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) and a set of state-level advocacy groups spawned by Ralph Nader’s activism. GCI was co-founded by Doug Phelps, the president and executive director of PIN, to increase the efficiency of PIN’s advocacy efforts. GCI, PIN, and many other organizations associated with Phelps have faced repeated legal actions for alleged labor violations.

GCI provides training and manpower to nonprofits for their on-the-ground campaigning and advocacy work. According to reporter Matthew Green, “If you’ve ever been approached on the street by an Oxfam representative seeking funds to end poverty in Africa, or had a guy from the Democratic National Convention knocking at your door at dinnertime crusading to keep Washington under Democratic control, chances are they were hired, trained, and paid by Grassroots Campaign Inc.” [1]

Many Democratic-aligned and left-of-center nonprofits have contracted with GCI, including the Democratic National Committee, Environmental Action, MoveOn.org, the American Civil Liberties Union, Save the Children, the League of Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood, VoteVets, For Our Future, the Sierra Club, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Doctors Without Borders, and the American Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty. [2][3][4] GCI is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, and maintains offices in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, and New York. [5]

History

Grassroots Campaigns Inc. was founded in 2003 by at least four progressive campaign operatives. Sue Morgan, GCI’s current principal, formerly worked at CALPIRG, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Sierra Club. Wes Jones, GCI’s current vice president and national canvass director, formerly worked for Greenpeace. Jon Scarlett, GCI’s vice president and national field director, worked for over a decade at the Fund for the Public Interest. Finally, Doug Phelps is the president and executive director of the Public Interest Network. [6][7]

During the 2004 election cycle, GCI partnered with MoveOn.org in a get-out-the-vote campaign which involved 50,000 volunteers across 17 states. [8]

In 2005, GCI co-founded Operation Democracy and later Call for Change, two get-out-the-vote campaigns to support Democratic Congressmen in the midterm elections. [9]

Image via Capital Research Center

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the 2006 elections, GCI shifted its focus to growing the membership of the Democratic National Committee and Democrat-aligned nonprofits, including Environmental Action, Save the Children, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). GCI takes some credit for nearly doubling the ACLU’s membership since 2007. [10]

In 2008, GCI worked with the League of Conservation Voters to support pro-environmentalist Democratic politicians, including then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) in his first presidential election. GCI registered over 200,000 new voters and takes credit for helping Obama win the state of North Carolina. GCI campaigned again for President Obama in 2012. [11] In 2014, GCI co-founder Doug Phelps hosted a $5,000-per-plate fundraiser attended by then-Vice President Joe Biden. [12]

During the 2016 election cycle, GCI’s employees and volunteers knocked on 1.3 million doors, primarily in swing states. The group partnered in its voter outreach efforts with Planned Parenthood, VoteVets, and For Our Future. [13]

Labor Disputes

Background

Grassroots Campaigns Inc. was co-founded by Doug Phelps, the president and executive director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) and other advocacy groups. Phelps has repeatedly been accused of exploiting young, idealistic workers who join his organizations to support political causes and are then subjected to abusive labor practices, including long hours, low pay, and anti-union crackdowns. In September 2018, GCI had almost two dozen pending disputes lodged at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). [14][15]

Lawsuits

In 2006, fourteen student-employees of GCI sued the company for failure to pay owed wages on John Kerry’s (D-MA) 2004 presidential campaign. The plaintiffs claim they were paid $5.15 an hour, while Oregon’s minimum wage was $7.05. The suit was settled out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. [16]

In 2007, a group of GCI employees filed a lawsuit against the company for violating labor laws by refusing to pay overtime and other abusive practices. The leader of the lawsuit, Angela Badami, had signed up to work for MoveOn.org, but found herself working under GCI contractors. She alleged working 105-hour weeks for $3.50 per hour, or about half of California’s minimum wage. Badami worked every day and was “strongly discouraged” from taking government-mandated lunch and dinner breaks. She was also pushed into buying the company’s healthcare plan which consumed 20% of her salary. When Badami raised concerns to GCI’s management, she was “met with well-practiced shaming speeches” in which they “guilt trip[ped]” her into going back to work. Badami and 125 GCI co-workers would ultimately receive $600,000 in an out-of-court settlement. [17]

Union Busting

In 2008, complaints were filed against GCI for allegedly firing three workers in its Chicago office who had attempted to start a union. The employees attempted to hire the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to represent their case, but the ACLU declined because it was a client of GCI, and therefore representation would be a conflict of interest. GCI would pay $18,000. [18]

In 2017, workers in GCI’s Michigan office attempted to unionize under the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The workers allegedly petitioned the NLRB for union status and won the election, but their office was shut down shortly afterward. [19]

In 2018, workers at the GCI’s office in Seattle also attempted to unionize under the IWW after months of complaints. Aside from low wages, the workers complained about a quota system which required each employee to get a certain number of petition signatures each month. If they missed the quota, they would have to make up the shortfall next month on top of the regular quota amount. If they missed the quota two months in a row, they would be fired. [20]

The office petitioned the NLRB for a union election, and according to the IWW, GCI engaged in “union busting” tactics against the Seattle office. GCI sent an “observer” to monitor the office and have one-on-one meetings with staff to “intimidate” them into compliance. In return, the IWW organized other local unions to flood the office with fake job applications to prevent GCI from hiring legitimate replacement workers. [21]

At the Seattle office 86% of workers voted to unionize. GCI quickly shut down the office, but after backlash from the IWW and other GCI employees across the country, it was reopened. However, GCI slowly laid off employees from the Seattle offices and revoked their contracts. The office and the IWW launched numerous protests, but by the end of the year, the Seattle office was shut down again. [22]

References

  1. Green, Matthew. “Hello, Wanna Give to a Good Cause?” EBX. November 3, 2010. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://eastbayexpress.com/hello-wanna-give-to-a-good-cause-1/. ^
  2. “Our History.” Grassroots Campaign Inc. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://grassrootscampaigns.com/our-history/. ^
  3. Green, Matthew. “Hello, Wanna Give to a Good Cause?” EBX. November 3, 2010. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://eastbayexpress.com/hello-wanna-give-to-a-good-cause-1/. ^
  4. Dilawar, Arvind. “A Progressive Fundraising Behemoth Faces Fresh Accusations of Unjust Labor Practices.” Pacific Standard. October 17, 2018. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://psmag.com/economics/grassroots-campaigns-unjust-labor-practices. ^
  5. “Grassroots Campaign Inc.” Grassroots Campaign Inc. Accessed June 24, 2021. http://grassrootscampaigns.com/ ^
  6. “Who We Are.” Grassroots Campaign Inc. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://grassrootscampaigns.com/meet-our-staff-2/. ^
  7. Green, Matthew. “Hello, Wanna Give to a Good Cause?” EBX. November 3, 2010. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://eastbayexpress.com/hello-wanna-give-to-a-good-cause-1/. ^
  8. “Our History.” Grassroots Campaign Inc. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://grassrootscampaigns.com/our-history/. ^
  9. “Our History.” Grassroots Campaign Inc. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://grassrootscampaigns.com/our-history/. ^
  10. “Our History.” Grassroots Campaign Inc. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://grassrootscampaigns.com/our-history/. ^
  11. “Our History.” Grassroots Campaign Inc. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://grassrootscampaigns.com/our-history/. ^
  12. Welsh, Nick. “Hoe Biden Swoops In.” Santa Barbara Independent. March 21, 2014. Accessed June 25, 2021. https://www.independent.com/2014/03/21/joe-biden-swoops-in/. ^
  13. “Our History.” Grassroots Campaign Inc. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://grassrootscampaigns.com/our-history/. ^
  14. Dilawar, Arvind. “A Progressive Fundraising Behemoth Faces Fresh Accusations of Unjust Labor Practices.” Pacific Standard. October 17, 2018. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://psmag.com/economics/grassroots-campaigns-unjust-labor-practices. ^
  15. Green, Matthew. “Hello, Wanna Give to a Good Cause?” EBX. November 3, 2010. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://eastbayexpress.com/hello-wanna-give-to-a-good-cause-1/. ^
  16. Gero, Tadd. “Popular recruiters face labor lawsuit.” The Wesleyan Argus. May 6, 2008. Accessed June 24, 2021. http://wesleyanargus.com/2008/05/06/popular-recruiters-face-labor-lawsuits/. ^
  17. Green, Matthew. “Hello, Wanna Give to a Good Cause?” EBX. November 3, 2010. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://eastbayexpress.com/hello-wanna-give-to-a-good-cause-1/. ^
  18. Green, Matthew. “Hello, Wanna Give to a Good Cause?” EBX. November 3, 2010. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://eastbayexpress.com/hello-wanna-give-to-a-good-cause-1/. ^
  19. Dilawar, Arvind. “A Progressive Fundraising Behemoth Faces Fresh Accusations of Unjust Labor Practices.” Pacific Standard. October 17, 2018. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://psmag.com/economics/grassroots-campaigns-unjust-labor-practices. ^
  20. McAllister, Gavin. “Tough Times Organizing Street Canvassers.” Organizing Work. December 5, 2019. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://organizing.work/2019/12/tough-times-organizing-street-canvassers/. ^
  21. McAllister, Gavin. “Tough Times Organizing Street Canvassers.” Organizing Work. December 5, 2019. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://organizing.work/2019/12/tough-times-organizing-street-canvassers/. ^
  22. Dilawar, Arvind. “A Progressive Fundraising Behemoth Faces Fresh Accusations of Unjust Labor Practices.” Pacific Standard. October 17, 2018. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://psmag.com/economics/grassroots-campaigns-unjust-labor-practices. ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Jonathan Scarlett
    Co-Founder and President
  2. Susan Rakov
    Director
  3. Doug Phelps
    President and Chief Executive Officer
  4. Gwen Snyder
    Former Field Manager

Coalition Memberships

  1. Public Interest Network (PIN)
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Grassroots Campaigns Inc. (GCI)

186 Lincoln St.
Suite 100
Boston, MA 02111