Wyoming Democratic Party leadership voted Saturday to recognize its staff’s labor union, joining a surge of Democratic campaigns and state parties to unionize employees in recent years.
The unanimous vote came on the heels of an accelerated unionization effort by the party’s four-person staff. The party’s executive committee voted unanimously on a resolution recognizing the union prior to the State Central Committee meeting in Saratoga.
When Joe Barbuto became chair of the WDP in 2017, he said in a statement, he made supporting and working with organized labor a priority for the party.
“To have our staff take this additional step and unionize is really terrific,” Barbuto said. “So, I’m not only voluntarily recognizing the union, I’m proudly recognizing it, too.”
The union will be represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents nine state Democratic party staffs nationwide. It is not anticipated that contracts will change substantially during collective bargaining, communications director Nina Hebert told WyoFile.
The vote comes amid a rash of organizing within Democratic politics nationwide. As of 2018, only a handful of state parties — including Idaho, Vermont and Oklahoma — had organized their staffs, and unionization efforts often received pushback from candidates and party officials who felt a unionized staff would consume resources that should be going directly to getting a candidate elected.
What changed in recent years, national Campaign Workers Guild president Meg Reilly said, was a new recognition from party leaders and candidates that reducing staff turnover could pay dividends.
“One of our ultimate goals is to build an industry that’s more sustainable,” Reilly said. “Campaign workers will work for one or two cycles and will then say ‘I need dental insurance and I can’t do this job anymore,’ and have to leave the industry. The purpose of unionizing is to make this a field where people can become a campaign worker and stay in the field and be respected as a skilled professional long-term.”
Though groups like CWG made headway with a number of small, progressive campaigns throughout the 2018 midterms, the 2020 Democratic primaries, however, proved to be a watershed moment for organizing in Democratic politics. In the presidential race that year, staffers on the campaigns of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren all voted to unionize. Numerous congressional campaigns followed suit.
State parties followed their lead. In 2020 alone, the employees of 10 Democratic parties voted to unionize. North Dakota and, now, Wyoming become the 16th and 17th state parties to unionize their staffs in 2021.
The developments coincide with a national Democratic push to shore up the party’s long-standing support for and from labor. Union support for Democratic candidates appeared to dissipate under former President Donald Trump. Recently, the Colorado AFL-CIO voted to withhold support to the Colorado Democratic Party over the party’s exclusion of labor interests from state policy discussions, according to the Colorado Sun. AFL-CIO National President Richard Trumka has also gone on the record saying organizations who don’t support unions will be punished by withholding support.
Exit polls in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections showed a large share of union members voting Republican, despite the inclusion of anti-union provisions in that party’s current platform. The electoral implications were felt in Wyoming as well: Sweetwater County, traditionally a Democratic and organized labor stronghold, flipped to the Republicans in last year’s elections.
“Historically, there has been a big overlap between the Democratic Party and labor unions,” Hebert said. “But ultimately, unions are nonpartisan, and they’re there to fight for their workers and ensure good wages and solid working conditions; not to influence elections.”
To party leadership, the vote also symbolized a party living the values it seeks to espouse. This is particularly the case as its staff continues to operate in one of the 27 “right-to-work” states across the country.
“This is a gigantic milestone,” Stan Blake, a former Democratic lawmaker from Sweetwater County and state director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, said Saturday. “This is a great deal. I’ve been a union member for 31 years and it’s well overdue that we bring into our own staff in as union members.”