Updated Jul 23, 2021 - Politics

Labor dispute hits Minnesota ranked-choice voting group

Boxing glove about to punch a ballot box.

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

A labor dispute is roiling the campaign to expand ranked-choice voting in Minnesota.

Driving the news: A group of former FairVote Minnesota staffers are accusing leaders of engaging in "union avoidance strategies" by laying off all five employees who had been involved in the bargaining process for their just-formed union's first contract with the political organization.

  • A petition supporting the terminated employees has gained support from more than 270 people, including local DFL lawmakers, progressive candidates and well-known labor organizers.

The big picture: There's a growing movement on the left to unionize campaign and political organizations from the top of the ticket on down.

  • While many Democratic campaigns and groups have publicly embraced the efforts, the union drives have in some cases exposed internal tensions and upended campaigns.

Why it matters: Ongoing drama here could hurt FairVote Minnesota's standing among DFL allies and undermine its efforts to change more elections in the state to the ranked-choice system.

What they're saying: FairVote MN executive director Jeanne Massey said in a statement that the positions were always supposed to be "time-limited," and ended after the legislative session due to budget issues.

  • Under the contract, affected employees will get a chance to be rehired when funding and work pick up, she added.
  • "FairVote Minnesota strongly supports our employees' rights to opt for collective bargaining," Massey said, noting that the group voluntarily recognized the union days after the effort was announced in late April.

The other side: Two of the former employees disputed that account in interviews with Axios. Both said FairVote Minnesota paid to train staff for future outreach work in mid-May, a move they interpreted as a sign of ongoing employment. Weeks later, the layoffs, which targeted the entire field team covered by the contract, were announced at a bargaining session.

  • "We were never once told that our jobs were going to end after the legislative session," said Audra Waylett, an ex-regional organizing director. "Do not gaslight your workers."

What to watch: The former staff released a list of demands that includes reinstating their jobs next week, when the new contract takes effect.

  • Massey declined additional comment until after a FairVote Minnesota board meeting, which she said was expected Thursday or Friday.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to make clear that the organization involved is FairVote Minnesota, not the national FairVote group.


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