Is this extraordinarily insane or just ordinarily so?
September 29, 2006 9:52 AM   Subscribe

What kind of hours are typical requirements for a political campaign job? What kind of hours are actually legal?

I'm working 100 hours a week right now on a large political campaign with national implications. My coworkers and I believe fully in the goal we're working towards, but are realizing that the expectation that we'll be able to maintain this current working pace -- 14.25 hours a day, 7 days a week, except 9 hours on Saturday -- is insane. We are very worried about burning out as the time demands get more strenuous as we get closer to Election Day. We are told and told and told (and some of us actually believe) that these hours are typical for campaign jobs, that we should suck it up. But we're (long past) starting to feel taken advantage of and actually in some sense abused -- it seems ridiculous to do this to us as dedicated workers when with another staffer or two we could each get a rotating day off and relieve the burden and burnout by large factors. So, my question is, are we being lied to when told that we aren't working any particularly drastic or special hours (given the nature of the work we're doing)? Additionally, is it even legal for them to force us to do this? If we were fired for refusing to work 60 unpaid hours a week, would THAT be legal? I'd especially appreciate feedback from those who've done campaign work, but lawyers and anyone else really are more than welcome to comment too.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What makes the 60 hours unpaid? Are they paying you an hourly wage for the first 40 hours, and then paying you nothing for the time after that? Or are they paying you a weekly wage?

Oh, I see that this is anonymous, so you won't be able to answer questions. People will also probably want to know what state you live in, as many worker protections come through state law.
posted by alms at 10:05 AM on September 29, 2006

Are you salaried or hourly employee? That would be a bigger decision point for us to know.

As to the long hours, its certainly a cliche in fictional depictions of campaigns. Most recently, take the West Wing for an example. Of course they also showed lots of hot staffer on staffer action as well so maybe you are getting those fringe benefits as well?
posted by mmascolino at 10:12 AM on September 29, 2006

As far as requirements, sounds like you're in the slightly above average range. The campaigns I've worked on have been nearly that demanding, and friends of mine in more important positions work about the exact same as you.
posted by dead_ at 10:16 AM on September 29, 2006

starting to feel taken advantage of and actually in some sense abused

I'd like to add that yes, this is a common feeling on campaigns, because you are being slightly abused.

People involved with political campaigns are some of the more stressed people on the planet because their future hinges on the election of their candidate. The general mantra is that if you believe in the cause the hours shouldn't matter. Again, most people I know who work on campaigns feel the same way you describe. If you enjoy being involved in campaigns, you probably won't find anything that's much more accomodating than your current situation.
posted by dead_ at 10:19 AM on September 29, 2006

as a former campaign worker myself, i can say that your experience is typical. you get your rest after the election.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 10:32 AM on September 29, 2006

People that work on political campaigns are often young, ideological, and fairly easily led. There's a certian tendency towards martyrdom and acceptance of self-sacrifice for the greater good required of any one wanting a senior campaign post. Altogether, you may have self-selected for being abused, and if you're waking up to that now, you may have completed your adolescence. But, if you don't do the job, there is probably somebody else who will step up, whether you think this is possible or not.

Politicians are wily beasts. They need you like beer wagons need Clydesdales, right up until the feed bills start to come in, in which case, they buy a truck. And campaign organizations wind down faster than the balloons being popped after a concession speech. If you're going after back pay, get a lawyer today.
posted by paulsc at 10:53 AM on September 29, 2006

I've also worked on some campaigns (part-time and full-time, depending on the race). I have to agree with lester's sock puppet: If you were hired as a full-timer, your hours sound pretty normal for true believers.

If you're not a true believer (in your cause/candidate/party), you're probably in the wrong job. Find a different cause/candidate/party. If you're still unhappy there, politics isn't for you. It really is a martyr's field.

As for your legal options: Even if I was a lawyer, it would be impossible to say without knowing what state you're in. I wouldn't be surprised if your state labor laws included weird exemptions for politcal jobs -- politicians are very good about protecting their right to campaign without legal hinderances.

Even if the law is on your side, it will be an uphill battle, because the defendents will have an army of true believers who will get on the witness stand and say things like "I only worked 40 hours a week. I volunteered the other 20 hours." Right now, you're in the only "business" where that kind of defense makes sense, because judges know that political campaigns are normally staffed by martyrs.

If you decide to stick it out, I can only recommend the traditional campaign worker's remedies for stress: Drinking yourself to sleep and hooking up with co-workers. (Works better if you do the latter before the former, though.)
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 11:56 AM on September 29, 2006

Almost any campaign work is going to be exempt, i.e. eligible for flat salary and not wages directly subject to overtime. Exempt employees are, under federal law, not entitled to overtime or minimum wage.

However, I belive that in some states, minimum wage is independent from the salary vs. hourly analysis, i.e., a salary must equal what one's wage would have been for the hours worked at a base minimum wage plus some multiple over 40 hours. So, in a state with such a provision and a $6 hour minimum wage and a 50% overtime rule, a "minimum" salary for someone who works 100 hours a week would be $780 ($600 in base pay plus $180 in overtime differential).

In any state, and under the Federal rules, I think the notion of a hybrid paid and volunteer position would not protect the campaign if it would otherwise be subject to a claim for un(der)payment of employees.
posted by MattD at 12:40 PM on September 29, 2006

Campaigns are limited in the amount of money they have to spend, both by limits on fundraising and, in some jurisdictions, caps on total spending. For that reason, they try to do as much as possible with as little money as possible (most businesses do this, of course, but it's more extreme when your options for increasing your budget are so limited). So yes, I agree with everyone who has said that your hours are well within the range of normal.

There are two kinds of campaign staffers, in my experience. The first are professional campaigners who love the thrill of the race so much that working 100+ hour weeks is fun and exciting for them, and they wouldn't want to work fewer hours if given the opportunity. The other type are people who are working on the campaign in the hopes of getting a job working on the politician's permanent staff if s/he wins the election. That type are more likely to view the hours as a burden, but since they anticipate having a regular, full-time job after the campaign is won, it's a temporary sacrifice that they're willing to make. If you don't fall into either of these two categories, I agree with the others who suggest that you should look into a different career.
posted by decathecting at 1:35 PM on September 29, 2006

"-- 14.25 hours a day, 7 days a week, except 9 hours on Saturday -- is insane. "

These hours are typical in campaign jobs. I did this on a volunteer basis (no pay) for a month, doing database stuff I'd normally bill out at a pretty decent rate.

I recall with fondness one of the chum distributors -- a guy who put in long hard physical hours hauling chum -- said to me after Election Day: "ortho [well, he used my real name], you're not a real friendly guy, but you're worked harder than anybody." He then proceeded to carry my 60 pound CRT monitor out to my car for me.

I'm fond of it because the guy saying it had also worked like dog, day in and day out, and frankly he worked harder than I did, in a much more physically demanding job.

I think he said it because I'd usually be at the HQ at 7am, having stayed all night, greeting the earliest arrivers with a yawn. By the last days of the campaign, I and several others were basically taking short naps at the HQ, and never leaving except to borrow someone's shower.

(The "not friendly" I hope I can blame on being harried and bone-weary tired, and my habit of figuring out programming or database problems by pacing back and forth, too abstracted to talk to or even smile at people.)

Incidentally, the paid staff look down on the volunteers precisely because most volunteers don't put in the punishing hours. My second proudest moment on the campaign was Election Day, when I was mistakenly given a staff badge rather than volunteer badge; everyone by that point assumed I had to be staff, because I was (just about) always there. My proudest was when I was, despite being a volunteer, given the keys to the HQ and left alone there all night long to work.
posted by orthogonality at 2:06 PM on September 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

I ran a campaign in Alaska and yup, I worked at LEAST that much. It was crazy but worth it to me, however, I can easily understand the burned out feeling. I think it's just all part of the package though and while i don't know about your particular campaign, ours was always scrambling for money so there would be no way i would have ever even thought about suing.
posted by yodelingisfun at 6:07 PM on September 29, 2006

After working two campaigns (9 months and 3 months), I agree with the overall sentiment. I don't know the legal questions, but strongly doubt you'll have much success using force to get better pay. Either pay will be an issue that you care about enough to make it a sticking point with the higher-ups or you'll peace out on that one.

Ortho, I agree with you on the volunteer/staff difference. My first campaign (a presidential over 9 months and 4 states), I turned down pay for a while since I could do without, so technically wasn't paid staff under 5 months in. But becoming a paid, technically-no-longer-a-volunteer worker didn't change shit. I still worked my ass off every day. And I still had the bonafides with anyone else in that office.

I've suggested to some people that they should work a major campaign in their lifetime. I said (and still believe) that all they have to do is find a race they believe in, drop everything else, show up at the HQ, start working (hard and long like everyone else that cares and can), and eventually they'll start paying you.

Insane? Maybe. But who is the next office holder in this race can be made or lost by the people busting their butts in the campaign. And think how huge that is. The difference between a term (or 2,3,...) of your guy/gal or the other one.

Peace. You gotta believe.
posted by gbinal at 1:36 PM on October 1, 2006

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