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Ex-Field Organizers Sue Bloomberg Campaign, Claiming They Were Misled

Mar 24, 2020 / News Item / New York Times — Rebecca Ruiz

Former field organizers for Michael R. Bloomberg filed two proposed class-action lawsuits against his presidential campaign Monday, arguing that they and thousands of others laid off this month had been tricked into taking jobs they were told would last until November.

The lawsuits, both filed in federal court in New York City, argued that the campaign had recruited staff members to work on Mr. Bloomberg’s bid under false pretenses, preventing them from pursuing other opportunities. One of the suits, brought by a former field organizer in Florida, also alleged the campaign had breached its contract with its organizers and failed to pay them necessary overtime.

In dismissing the workers eight months earlier than promised, that complaint said, the campaign had “deprived them of promised income and health care benefits, leaving them and their families potentially uninsured in the face of a global pandemic.” (Despite the campaign’s promises of continued employment, the field organizers had signed at-will contracts, indicating they could be terminated at any point.)

“People are going from a pretty generous health care benefit to projected 20 to 30 percent unemployment,” said Sally J. Abrahamson, a lawyer with Outten & Golden in Washington representing Donna Wood, a former field organizer in Miami who was laid off on Friday and filed the breach of contract suit. “It’s kind of jaw-dropping that Bloomberg spent what he did on the race and wouldn’t at least provide health insurance for these folks.”

A spokeswoman for the campaign initially declined to comment on Monday, later issuing a statement announcing that “a fund is being created to ensure that all staff receive health care through April, something no other campaign has done.”

“Staff worked 39 days on average, but they were also given several weeks of severance and health care through March, something no other campaign did this year,” the statement said.

Within hours of Ms. Wood’s complaint, a second proposed class-action suit was filed in the same court, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, by former campaign workers in Georgia, Utah and Washington State.

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But on March 9, days after he exited the race, Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign laid off field workers in all but six battleground states, asking if they were open to relocating to one of those states — Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — or if they wanted to be referred to another presidential campaign.

Last week, as he announced an $18 million donation to the Democratic National Committee in place of a new super PAC designed to help Democrats in the presidential race, Mr. Bloomberg also laid off staff members like Ms. Wood who had worked in those six states.

His campaign invited all former employees to apply to work for the D.N.C., though it called the hiring process competitive and specified that pay and benefits would be different. The campaign said in a news release last week that D.N.C. staffing would draw “in part from our own incredibly experienced and talented organizing staff.”

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“Essentially, you need to be running an organization or have a lot of discretion,” Ms. Abrahamson said of the claim. “You maybe don’t see a lot of these in campaign world because people don’t want to come forward and burn employers, but this is an unprecedented time.”

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