pirg.org legit?
July 18, 2006 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Know anything about jobs with pirg.org?

My girlfriend was looking at a fellow job with the group PIRG (www.pirg.org) specifically: http://columbus.craigslist.org/npo/183126484.html and I was wondering if this group is lefit, what anyone knows about it, and if their jobs are cold calling or petition signing or something. I researched it on google, but couldn't find any human stories about expereicens with them. Any info much appreciated.
posted by pissfactory to Work & Money (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Friend's little sister worked for MASS-PIRG last summer in Boston. She stood on the streets and approached people to get them to give money.

Cute girls can do okay at it, but they get a lot of hostile reactions, too. One, some folks think that they're communists for being pro-environment.

Two, people who spend enough time in a metropolitan area get solicited by PIRG reps a lot and become cross because PIRG workers are like homeless people in that they're constantly approaching you and asking for money. But they want more of your time and money than homeless people.

But I don't think that my friend's sis thought it was a bad gig overall. However, she was getting free room for the summer, which makes any job easier to take.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:12 PM on July 18, 2006

PIRGs are NOTORIOUS for awful jobs involving door-to-door petition signing. Avoid like the plague unless you are a true believer in their causes.
posted by Heminator at 12:12 PM on July 18, 2006

I went through the interview process with them and eventually declined the job. They're certainly legit - a very principled organization, lots of young people working there, a lot of grassroots political activism work. Unfortunately there's not a lot of money in principles these days.

What you would be doing depends on which state PIRG you work for, but it's a lot of legwork - doing policy research, drafting letters for legislators/citizens, organizing events, that kind of thing. If she's interested in doing something in political advocacy later on, it's a good boot camp and also a pretty good resume-builder. Doing this kind of grassroots job for a year or two gives a lot of credibility to someone looking for a swanky PAC job down the line.

YMMV, but I found that the people I dealt with at the PIRGs were just not very inspiring. They weren't the bright-eyed crusaders I was imagining, more like recent poli sci graduates with nothing better to do who were just killing time and weren't all that dynamic.

I don't want to extrapolate that too much since it might have just been the people I met, but I've found that most of the really awesome young people in the policy arena were in DC or working on campaigns.
posted by EnormousTalkingOnion at 12:16 PM on July 18, 2006

PIRG is "left", and raises money for itself and a number of "left" organizations.

Never tried it, but from what I understand, it's cold calling of the worst sort: knocking doors in affluent suburbs, basically hoping that the homeowner will take pity on you for having such a terrible job and give you some cash for "the environment" (or other cause du jour).

PIRG's "typical" 12+ hour day,
A description of the job, from an article about PIRG allegedly union-busting:
Miller, like many of his co-workers, was hired by the Fund after answering a newspaper ad that promised $300 to $500 a week for “activist jobs.” It proved to be hard work — ringing doorbells for hours to ask for donations to various environmental and progressive causes: solar energy, forest protection, gay rights. Canvassers were paid a percentage of the money they raised, which could easily work out to be less than the minimum wage. Only rarely, Miller says, did he see a comma on his biweekly check. But the hardships were bearable, Miller says, “because these are issues that I care about.”
From a similar article, the emphasis on quotas for "Field Directors":
Tiff Petherbridge, a former Field Director at the door office, was fired in July when she didn’t make her canvassing quota for the week.

“The way it was before, for the year and a half before [Jason Tipton, the new office Director] ever came on to the scene, it was, once you had made core staff, which is after your 3rd of 4th week on staff, is if you miss quota for a week [management] would try to help you out…” Petherbridge says, “and then the second week if you missed quota again they would put you on what’s called an ultimatum, and the ultimatum is if you don’t make quota the next week they have to let you go…with Jason it was 'if you miss quota 3 days in a row I’m going to fire you.'”
That article continues with this example of compassionate conservatism bottom-line entrepreneurial left progressivism:
“I once fired my entire office—which was suggested by my regional director—in order to build a new stronger one,” says Cayenne "Aubee" Tupelo, a former Director of the LA street office. “It worked. Shortly after we were the [number one] street office in the country for a couple months.” Tupelo also quit in 2004.
Presumably, if you're young, don't mind cold calling, are relatively attractive and/or evocative of sympathy (that is, pathetic in the literal sense of "pathos"), you might make from les than minimum wage to $23K. But to me, it sounds like the worst kind of high-pressure grind.

If you're going to put yourself through that, why not sell something where you get a bigger chunk of the profits; sell used cars, sell stereos, sell real estate, sel stocks from a boilerroom.
posted by orthogonality at 12:17 PM on July 18, 2006

Two, people who spend enough time in a metropolitan area get solicited by PIRG reps a lot and become cross because PIRG workers are like homeless people in that they're constantly approaching you and asking for money.

Yup. They're alllways there, I'm sympathetic to the general cause, but I go around blocks to avoid 'em 'cause after the fifth or fifteenth time that's enough. Just corroborating that part.
posted by furiousthought at 12:21 PM on July 18, 2006

I worked for TX-PIRG for about two weeks and strongly recommend against it if you are trying to earn money.

My pay was based on the number of people I convinced to sign up for Sierra Club memberships. They did not bother to tell me that if I did not collect enough signatures in a day, I would not be paid. I think they deliberately withheld that information from the new solicitors they hired. I felt scammed.

Potentially I could have walked from door to door in the Texas summer heat for eight hours without being paid a cent. Is that how they "encourage a fair and sustainable economy"?
posted by zonkout at 12:22 PM on July 18, 2006

I absolutely hate these fuckers -- CalPIRG has a chapter on the Berkeley campus, and they would usually open with the line "Would you like to sign something to help save the environment?" -- well, in their case you're not signing a petition, you're signing a pledge of $15 dollars a semester to their fund that gets billed on your tuition and is a bitch to cancel (worse than many gym memberships).

It's basically going to be telemarketing with a bit more heart. If she takes the job she should probably be prepared to have people (like me) occasionally freak out on her for something that's really no fault of her own.
posted by fishfucker at 12:27 PM on July 18, 2006

Also, a site just for (negative) experiences of PIRG employees, and their attempts to unionize: http://www.ffpir.us/
posted by orthogonality at 12:30 PM on July 18, 2006

Response by poster: I have noticed a serious increase in the number of people on the campus where I work, in the "artsy" neighborhood where I live, and in a nearby somewhat upscale shopping neighborhood doing this (sign a petition for increasing minimum wage, would you like to sign a petition to help the environemnt, etc) - I wondered if this was the group behind it, perhaps. I have been approached to sign the increase-the-minimum-wage petition no fewer than 10 times. In one instance my GF was asked to sign a petition to repeal our smoking ban- when she indicated that she supported it, they said, "oh, I have a petiton for that too." - even tried to get her to sign two opposing petitions on that at the same time.
posted by pissfactory at 12:32 PM on July 18, 2006

Sister Curley's hostile reactions may have been due to Mass-PIRG's sleazy opt-out fundraising. They somehow managed to tack on a donation to my college's tuition bills. It was a huge hassle to opt out-- you had to obtain and sign a special form each semester or pay their "punitive laziness fine." Yes, I'm still bitter about it. They're a legitimate organization, but I wouldn't want to be associated with them.
posted by Gable Oak at 12:35 PM on July 18, 2006

A few summers ago I worked as a MassPIRG canvasser. The interview was group format, it took place in a field office and lasted for 30 minutes. Most of the interview was spent filling out application forms. Most everyone in the interview was hired. I worked as canvasser for one day, got no one to sign up or donate money & got heatstroke. I was able to talk myself into an office job with the Pirg, and spent a summer doing filing in an unairconditioned office in downtown Boston. Getting the office job was a combination of the heat stroke, a sympathetic Field Director, and my background & masters degree in library science. I was the perfect candidate to do alphabetical filing for $7.50/hr. The filing job was alright, but I was definitely the only one in the office that hadn't drunk the kool-aid.

The street team was all about quota making and collecting money. You were paid based on the number and amount of donations you collected, and you weren't paid for your first day on the job. The office job was a set wage, with breaks and lunches.

Unless you're very passionate about the causes, and are willing to work outside for commission-based pay, you might want to look elsewhere.
posted by bryghtrose at 12:55 PM on July 18, 2006

What you would be doing depends on which state PIRG you work for, but it's a lot of legwork - doing policy research, drafting letters for legislators/citizens, organizing events, that kind of thing.

As others have noted, you're far, far, far more likely to be a door-to-door salesman than you are to do anything as interesting as doing research or writing letters.

Legit, but terrible work.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:23 PM on July 18, 2006

No one will like the source, but the dirty side of PIRG, referred to by hizzonner, is here.

And my guess is that "lefit" means "legit," not "left."
posted by Kwantsar at 2:16 PM on July 18, 2006

I was offered a job for a PIRG when I was in college, and promised a management role based on my leadership experience. Showed up on day one after confirming everything multiple times, and they had no record that I'd been hired. I was put through a full day on-the-job training session, for which I expected to be paid. Then was told it was a "try out" and I'd have to come back two more times before I was offered a job. Then they locked the doors and set up exit interviews, where they wouldn't let anybody leave until they got us all to tell them we were happy with the experience. By the time I got out of there, the Metro had stopped running to my neighborhood and I had to ride a taxi.

So instead of earning more than $100 for the day (what I'd been promised) or a least $56.50 (minimum wage for the hours I'd put in), I made nothing paid paid more than $40 for a cab ride.

A college friend took a PIRG job in another part of the country, and was -- I kid you not -- given a paper bag and told to shit in it in the bushes when he needed to go to the bathroom while canvassing door to door.

It's one of the most despicable organizations out there. I will never give PIRG a dime, I will never recommend anyone work there, and I wll never have any respect for anyone affiliated with PIRG.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:26 PM on July 18, 2006

Just another cranky voice in the crowd calling out PIRGs as a deathless bunch of assholes. I worked for OSPIRG (Oregon) for three days before deciding that I'd rather saw off my own feet than bother people for a meager living of lousy commissions (which my "trainer" took most of anyway).

HINT if you get canvassed: tell them you're a Jehovah's Witness. Watch them run as if pursued by pack animals.
posted by Skot at 2:31 PM on July 18, 2006

croutonsupafreak writes "I was offered a job for a PIRG when I was in college, and promised a management role based on my leadership experience. Showed up on day one after confirming everything multiple times,"

So what happened when you spoke to whomever you'd confirmed with?
posted by orthogonality at 2:44 PM on July 18, 2006

Orthogonality: "There must have been some misunderstanding. Just go through this training, and we'll get it worked out later." I was young, naive and not very assertive at the time, and I went with it.

If I had a chance to do it over again, I'd make a stink and file a complaint with whatever DC agency oversees these things. Fortunately, I was able to find another internship that summer that better furthered my career goals, and I (mostly) got past it, except some lingering bitterness.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:30 PM on July 18, 2006

Two very close friends of mine, a couple, answered one of PIRG's sleazy "make money saving the environment" ads in our college paper a few years ago. She, being cute and outgoing, did ok. He, being much more bashful, was fired on the third day. Neither lasted a week.

These guys are hucksters - no different than those companies that scam single moms into buying knife sets or rainbow vacs to take door to door.

What's weird is that as part of my work (I'm a newspaper reporter) I frequently talk to PIRG regarding consumer issues, such as payday and auto-title lending, and find they're very knowledgeable and helpful on such subjects, and are advocates for consumers. Seems like they could find another way to raise money for this valuable work.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:54 PM on July 18, 2006

And now Doug Phelps, the cheesy CEO of the PIRG, has set up Grassroots Campaigns Inc., which is a for-profit company running on the PIRG's model. They have served such clients as... the PIRG... meaning that the "non-profit" donations to the PIRG get paid back to GCI.

This is an organization that depends on taking advantage of young people, and that's unfortunate.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 4:20 PM on July 18, 2006

I worked for what Ignatius J. Reilly just mentioned, Grassroots Campaigns Inc., for the summer before the Kerry/Bush election in Philadelphia, and the model sounds exactly the same as what PIRG does, right down to the chaotic disorganization of the offices- turnover was so high that people I'd assumed knew what they were doing had actually been there all of a day longer than me.
In general, it was a pretty awful job- they sent us out to canvass different neighborhoods in the region, and unlike most political canvassing, without a voter list, which meant that depending on the neighborhood, you could easily end up spending the day asking registered Republicans to donate money to the Kerry campaign, with generally predictable (and unpleasant) results. To further echo the earlier replies, they use quotas (if you don't make it for three days, you get fired- and this could be hard even for the more outgoing and succesfull canvassers because of the locations they might be assigned to), they have a training period during which you only make money if you survive the three days, and it's pretty grueling work. We had a street team and a door team- the street team stood on the street and bothered passerby, the door team pestered people at their houses.
posted by Oobidaius at 7:29 PM on July 18, 2006

I volunteered at a PIRG in Canada and it was, on the whole, a positive experience. It seems that PIRGs (or at least the one that I was at) are run differently in Canada - while we did collect a levy from the student body (passed by campus-wide referendum), we did not make contributions to any central PIRG organisation. Opting out of the student levy was (and, I imagine, still is) well published and ridiculously easy: one could either collect money from the PIRG office right in the middle of campus or the Students' Union building. Our staff members were well-paid, unionised, and did not engage in any soliciting whatsoever. The money collected through the student levy was funnelled back in to student working groups and 'providing students with resources to be active citizens.' Basically, while PIRGs seem like they can be full of scam artists, this isn't always the case!
posted by lumiere at 7:38 PM on July 18, 2006 [2 favorites]

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