A day after suspending his presidential campaign, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg recommitted to the idea of starting a campaign finance organization to help the Democratic nominee, which his existing campaign staff would run. Staffers claim he promised to offer pay and full benefits until November, regardless of whether he was the nominee. But a few days later, on March 9, Bloomberg campaign staff across the country were laid off. Two weeks later, on March 20, he changed his plans again, announcing he’d transfer rented offices to the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic parties, which would then hire their own staff using money from Bloomberg. In total, 1,500 staffers in battleground states were laid off as the country sank deeper into the coronavirus crisis.
One email sent to staffers, which ELLE.com has seen, offered no reason for the layoffs. One section said, “As a token of our appreciation, we are offering you the opportunity to keep your laptop and iPhone.”
Former campaign manager Kevin Sheekey told ELLE.com in an emailed statement: “Hundreds of former Bloomberg campaign staff have been contacted and are in the hiring pipeline to join the DNC organizing efforts, which would not have happened without this campaign’s transfer of funds. This process is moving quickly, but until that process is complete, we have also created a fund to ensure that all staff, whether in process with the DNC or those who opted themselves out, will have uninterrupted healthcare coverage from the time our campaign ended in early March through the end of April. This is something no other campaign has done. And throughout our campaign, we were proud to pay our staff wages and benefits that were much more generous than any other campaign this year. Staff worked 39 days on average, but they were also given several weeks of severance.”
Former Bloomberg staffers who were laid off on March 9 were reportedly told they would be paid through March 31. For those laid off on the 20th, the campaign said their health insurance benefits would end April 30. Four former campaign employees, who spoke to ELLE.com on the condition of anonymity due to nondisclosure agreements, shared in their own words how their lives have been affected.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
“To sum it up in one word, I feel betrayed.”
I was one of the organizers from the field operation. I did take the job because they said, “Even if [he’s] not the candidate, you will have a position on team Bloomberg through November with pay and benefits.” But I was laid off on Friday, March 20. In a separate email that day, I was given notice that I would get paid through the first week of April, and at the end of April my health insurance would be unenrolled.
I was stunned. I was one of the few people that was there because I truly believe Mayor Bloomberg would have been a good president. But most important to me is the health insurance. I have preexisting conditions and appointments every week. I turn 26 [soon], so I’ll have a few weeks of coverage before I get kicked off. I’m looking [into] COBRA gap coverage until the fall when my wife’s work starts. But that’s over $1,000 a month. Unemployment may be my only option.
[Bloomberg] spent over $900 million on the failed run. Staff only ever comprised around $28 million of that total. Obviously he has the capacity to pay for these things. I’ve worked on a lot of campaigns, and the goals of the organization can change. But you need to uphold your end of the bargain.
To sum it up in one word, I feel betrayed—1,500 lives have been drastically changed overnight. I can’t imagine a worse time to leave your employees out to dry.
“During the middle of a global pandemic, we’re out of work and won’t have health insurance.”
I left my full time, salaried job to take this [position] with the offer of full benefits. [I was laid off] on Friday, [March 20], on a less than 10-minute conference call. I was shocked. We worked tirelessly on this campaign. We worked seven days a week, [usually] between 12 and 16 hours. Our regional organizing director was adamant that we should always work through lunch.
The lack of communication on this campaign was ridiculous. I found out on social media [that Bloomberg was dropping out]. There were incidents of racism that were covered up by my regional director, all the way up to our state organizing director. (A spokesperson for the campaign told ELLE.com in an emailed statement: “The campaign had a zero-tolerance policy regarding harassment or discrimination of any sort. We had a clearly articulated process for escalating complaints to managers and HR. Any concerns that were raised to the campaign HR were handled promptly and appropriately, and any failure to have escalated a concern to HR would have been a clear and unacceptable violation of our policy.”) One day during Get Out The Vote, when it was pouring rain outside, one of my co-workers called our organizing director and told him he had a fever. He was really sick and had been out canvassing all day. Our deputy said, “Go take a 10-minute break and then get back to it.”
It was devastating to find out that during the middle of a global pandemic, we’re out of work and won’t have health insurance. I need to go to the eye doctor. I need to go to the dentist. But most practices aren’t accepting appointments [because of the coronavirus]. By the time I’m able to make an appointment, I won’t have health insurance. I’m looking for other jobs, but right now people aren’t hiring. I will be applying for unemployment.
“I have medication I’m supposed to take daily… It costs around $5,000 a month.”
I have a chronic health issue. I don’t qualify for Medicaid, so I just won’t have health insurance. I have medication I’m supposed to take daily that was getting covered. It costs around $5,000 a month. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m applying for unemployment, but I need HR to give me the FEIN [Federal Employer Identification Number, which you need to apply for unemployment]. And now, in the midst of the coronavirus, nobody’s hiring.
I felt like it was [all] pretty shitty. We worked 90 hours a week. When we were tired and overworked, they were like, “Don’t worry about it. Just keep working hard. You’ll have a job till November.” It’d been like a rallying cry on the campaign, to push us to work harder.
“The anger I felt is for my staff.”
I was an organizing director. After Super Tuesday, we were supposed to have … an overview call of how Super Tuesday went. After they made the announcement on March 4 that we were going to be dropping out, that changed, and they made it an all-staff call. [On the call] they said, “We don’t know what this looks like. We are guaranteeing you pay until the end of March. You will have health insurance until March 31st. Your last paycheck will be March 31st.” They never called it severance. The language they used was, “Sit tight while we figure this out.” They gave very little details. To me, it seemed like they had no plan in place for if we did lose Super Tuesday.
The anger I felt is for my staff. I was the one who’d interviewed them. HQ told me to tell them they would have employment through November. I had to say, “I am deeply, deeply apologetic for this.”
The vast majority of organizers are under the age of 25. These are their first jobs. A lot of them have relocated, they don’t have families in these states, and now they’re sheltering in place.
One of my co-workers from 2016 is in the ICU right now. He was a Bloomberg employee, and he has coronavirus. He was part of HQ staff. It’s unconscionable that they’re going to end health coverage for the majority of employees in the middle of this COVID-19 pandemic.