December 20, 2006

PIRG, GCI, ACORN: When Does ‘Activist’ Mistreatment of Employees and Union-Busting Become a Reportable Trend?

The alphabet soup identified in the headline would be Public Interest Research Group (also known as the Fund for Public Interest Research (FFPIR, also called “The Fund”); Grassroots Campaigns, Inc.; and The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

All three organizations have gained well-deserved reputations for mistreatment of their activist canvassers and violations of employment law. ACORN, which has been mentioned previously at BizzyBlog (here, here, and here), has been accused (from all indications, quite properly) of minimum wage hypocrisy; voter registration fraud; Federal grant violations, and (get this) union-busting, complete with accompanying negative National Labor Relations Board rulings.

FFPIR and PIRG have gone further, by shutting down offices whose workers successfully organized (link is to organizers’ web site):

As discussed in multiple media outlets, as well as in our own updates section, FFPIR/PIRG has shut down both its Los Angeles door canvassing and phone canvassing operations due to union activity in both offices. These closures come after over a year of FFPIRG’s prolonged anti-union activity, including (but not limited to) attempts to create stricter office policies, firing pro-union canvassers, instituting hiring freezes in both offices to prevent the unions from gaining numerical strength, and stalling contract negotiations.

This particular critique of The Fund and GCI from late November at “progressive” web site MyDD is particularly damning:

  • The Fund used its own members, the very people we are supposedly organizing, against its employees.
  • ….. And then the Fund cheated those employees out of the wages that they still managed to earn.

Commenters at the post liken The Fund to a cult. Greg Bloom’s six-part series at MyDD (final part here; HT Jane Galt), who has her own compelling personal recollections of her involvement) makes for sobering reading for those of us, including myself, who have believed that there remains, after all these years, a core of defensible idealism at the upper reaches of leftist organizations. If there is, I have to believe that it’s on life support, especially after reading this MyDD comment, and believe that Bloom’s well-intentioned calls for reform are likely to fall on deaf ears.

They’ll especially be ignored if the alleged watchdogs in WORMLand (the home of the Worn-Out Reactionary Media, formerly known as the Mainstream Media) fail to grasp how pervasive the mistreatment of idealistic young activists has been, and apparently continues to be. I also don’t see any signs that MoveOn.org and other top-level progressive organizations are reducing their outsourcing of on-the-ground activism to organizations like the ones discussed here. The abuse and lawlessness will continue until someone either calls prominent attention to it, or until the Grand Poobahs of liberal activism pay attention to what is going on a few levels below them (alternate scary thought — they know, and don’t care).

Conservative organizations engaging in the activity described here, especially if there were several doing so contemperaneously, would be raked over the coals in the court of public opinion before prosecutors could even get in front of their computers to type up their complaints. How much worse does the situation have to get before widespread employee abuse by leftists gets the attention it deserves?

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UPDATE: Oh, and what about the underlying integrity of the organizations, the work, and the cause? Galt again:

I have never worked at any organisation, including the Catskills hotel that basically used foriegn temporary labour in sweatshop fashion, that treated its employees as shamefully as PIRG. People talk about workers being disposable, but no other business model I have encountered depends on its employees having an average tenure of two weeks, the better to funnel their lost wages up the hierarchy to god-knows-where.

It seems worth mentioning that missing your weekly quota was a firing offense.

….. Now, of course, I think of myself getting money from those poor people for PIRG, and I writhe in shame. Because of course, the whole thing is a massive scam. All the money from the canvass goes, not to the cause, but to the canvass: you are paying them to collect your name so that they can sic telemarketers on you several times a year. The canvassers don’t believe in what they’re saying, at least not in any reasonably creditable way; they are told what to say and exactly how to say it, about issues they know nothing more about than you do. Many of them shamelessly lie; others repeat untruths they picked up somewhere with the best of intentions and the worst of results. Even after the telemarketers are through with it, at almost no point does the money ever get used for the things that are stressed in the pitches, like research, preservation, rescuing human rights victims, and so forth; administrative costs for most of these operations are, as a percentage of total revenues, in the high double digits. Their idea of a really effective use of the money is lobbying the government to take more out of you in tax dollars, and spend it.

UPDATE 2: NixGuy had a lot to say about this yesterday.

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