Alex Scherer-Jones began working for Grassroots Campaigns to fight the Bush administration and elevate the fortunes of the Democratic Party. The 21-year-old MATC student left feeling exploited and sour: "I went in there being very idealistic, and it kind of ruined my idealism."
The job involves going door to door asking people to give money to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, using talking points that include a call to raise the minimum wage. For this, Scherer-Jones says he was paid far less than the state minimum wage of $6.50 an hour.
"I worked 37 hours one week and got paid around $130 [after taxes]," recalls Scherer-Jones, who quit after two weeks.
John Dedering worked for Grassroots Campaigns for about a month last year and again this year. He says the company paid a satisfactory base wage in 2005, when he canvassed for Environmental Action, but this year switched to a new system, dropping his wages to less than minimum.
Juan Ruiz says he put in about 45 hours working at Grassroots Campaigns for five days this year, and was paid just $56. And Miles Kristan produces pay
stubs for two two-week periods, during which he says he typically worked 50 hours per week. One is for $339.81, the other for $281.50. Before taxes. (For these and more, see Document Feed at The DailyPage.com.)
In ads that have appeared in Isthmus, Grassroots Campaigns claims to pay $1,200 to $2,000 a month; this squares with signs around town that mention a range of $300 to $500 per week. The ads read "Corruption and Scandal/Had Enough?" above a picture of George Bush.
Grassroots Campaigns is a for-profit company based in Boston, with operations in 18 U.S. cities. It is currently canvassing for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which raises money for targeted congressional races. None are in Wisconsin, but the Dem who wins the three-way primary in the state's 8th Congressional District could get some DCCC cash.
Emily Larson, Grassroots Campaigns' regional director (she also oversees operations in Minnesota, Texas and Colorado), defers all wage-related questions to Wes Jones, the company's national canvass director. Jones confirms that some Madison canvassers may be receiving sub-minimum wage, but insists there's nothing wrong with this.
"These kinds of fund-raising and sales positions are governed under different [rules]," asserts Jones in a phone interview from Seattle. He says canvassers get a base pay of $300 per week if they meet their "minimal fund-raising standard" and can make more if they do especially well. But if they fail to meet quota '- which changes based on the group average ' they get a straight-up commission of 47% of whatever they collect.
Jones also confirms that Grassroots Campaigns does not pay for an initial "observation day" in which applicants are trained and then sent to canvass. The company considers this experience ' which Scherer-Jones says is an all-day shift in which money is raised ' to be "a second interview."
These practices likely violate state law. Rose Lynch, spokeswoman for the state Department of Workforce Development, says there are no special rules for canvassing firms, and "even individuals paid on a commission basis must receive at least minimum wage." She adds that workers should be paid for any mandatory training and get overtime for anything beyond 40 hours a week. Lynch urges anyone who feels these rights were violated to file complaints. (Forms are available off the DWD Web site or by calling 266-3345.)
DCCC spokesman Bill Burton asserts that all of the money collected by Grassroots Campaigns ' every last penny ' goes to his group, which then pays Grassroots Campaign a fee for its role. But he refuses to divulge how this shakes out as a percentage of what's collected: "The terms of the contract are confidential." (Figure less than half, with Grassroots Campaigns' commissions, costs and profits.)
How does the DCCC feel about having workers making less than minimum wage soliciting contributions to help it force the evil Republicans to raise the minimum wage? Burton said he'd look into this, then failed to call back.
Twice last week, former Grassroots Campaigns workers staged protests in front of its Madison office, 222 N. Hamilton St., holding up a huge banner. Says Kristan, "We will continue to demonstrate until Grassroots Campaigns pays all of its employees minimum wage."
Jake Titus, canvass director for the group's Madison office, says staffing is "a little fluid right now," at fewer than 15 employees. But the outfit plans a "college-recruitment push" that he hopes will swell its ranks in advance of the fall elections: "I would like to have as many people as would like to come work for us."
John Roussos calls it "just another in-your-face thing that the city did to the north side." The longtime north-sider and owner of New Orleans Take Out is referring to the relocation of three modest houses to Melrose Street just off Sherman Avenue. The land on which they sit used to be part of an expansive lot for a 154-year-old farmhouse, in which Roussos' wife's great-aunt once lived.
Roussos says the new properties, which were moved to the site in February 2004, have "destroyed" the historic lot. And he's especially upset that the homes, which he calls "junk," are still unsold: "We are all the poorer for the city's shortsightedness."
He'll get no argument from Jeff Pokorski, who lives next door to the new houses. On a walking tour, Pokorski points out examples of "shoddy workmanship" and speculates that the houses may remain vacant for some time: "These houses are not going to compete well with others in their price range."
Such talk irritates Ron Beaton of Anchor Property Management, which owns the homes. Beaton thought he was doing a good thing when he heeded calls from housing advocates to save nine houses that had to be moved to make room for expansion at St. Mary's Hospital. (Some went elsewhere in town and to outlying communities.)
Beaton calls the houses "very characteristic of the neighborhood" and says "I've had a lot of compliments on them." They've only been on the market since April and fall into a range that in Madison qualifies as affordable: Two have asking prices of $159,900; the third is listed at $169,900. He says two offers have recently come in.
Ald. Brian Benford laments the loss of "the funky little greenspace" that used to exist on this site and thinks neighbors who objected to the houses had legitimate concerns. But he suggests tensions will dissipate once the homes are sold. Then the neighborhood will accept their new neighbors as, well, neighbors, and "a lot of this will be history."
Confidential to 'Must be Anonymous'
First of all, you're a coward. If you're going to make allegations against Madison police officials regarding their private conduct and relationships, you ought to put your name to it. Second, who cares if some cop was caught in mid-tryst with another law-enforcement professional? Big deal. Third, your allegation that a police supervisor had some court records sealed to shield "embarrassing details" is apparently false. The Dane County Clerk of Courts Office says only some personal financial information was sealed. So there.