Elizabeth Warren may style herself a champion of the working-class, but some of her volunteers say that they felt exploited by her campaign.
Two men who signed up for Warren’s volunteer fellowship program told the Daily Beast that they feel “scammed. They said that the Warren campaign is taking advantage of the enthusiasm of unpaid volunteers to make them work with the same intensity as paid interns — minus the cash.
“What was sold to me was very different than it actually was,” said Warren volunteer Jonathan Nendze, a student at Seton Hall University. “It was kind of a great scam of getting people to show up and work in the capacity of volunteer, but to function as a paid intern in the amount of work they’re doing.”
Warren’s campaign offers paid internships as well as volunteer fellowship positions for possible academic credit. According to the Daily Beast, workers’ rights groups saw Warren’s unpaid program as unusual and expressed concerns about potential worker exploitation.
According to two volunteers from the campaign, those concerns were well placed. They said that the campaign pushed them to take on unpaid, volunteer work, then misled them about the possibility of compensation and asked them to sign non-disclosure forms. Nendze said that it became clear as he talked to staff members that the campaign was blurring the lines between paid and unpaid work.
“The way they always communicated it was always fellow/intern, like they were synonymous,” he said. “Their application kind of took advantage of people who were really eager to get experience.”
When he asked about getting paid, he couldn’t get a straight answer. “I was getting super-concerned,” he said. “I had no information about where to go, if I was being paid. If they had told me upfront that I was unpaid, maybe I would have been able to prepare better.”
Strangely, Nendze said he was asked to sign a non-disclosure form asking that he “not communicate with any member of the press” or “make any statement that may impair or otherwise adversely affect the goodwill or reputation” of the Warren campaign. He did not sign the form.
The campaign was also deceptive about accommodations. In an e-mail to Nendze and other fellows, the volunteers were told that the campaign would “do our best” to provide free housing, a promise that drew in another volunteer, Cole.
Cole said he told the campaign that he would not be able to cover the cost of housing if he worked for free, but that the campaign reassured him it would be covered. Still, he said that the campaign pressured him to join without any clear promise that he would have a place to stay. “She was really, really selling me on it in a way that she just wanted me to say yes to add another person,” Cole said, recalling a conversation with a campaign staffer.
As the time drew near for Cole to start the position, he learned in subsequent communications that he would be expected to pay for Uber rides. Days before his fellowship was to begin, he still had no clear information about his housing arrangements – so he backed out. “Before you start a campaign you should have these basic processes done,” he told the Daily Beast. “To be treated the way I was is disheartening.”
Warren is not the only Democrat to talk like a socialist while pinching the pockets of campaign staff. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who like Warren is a millionaire, gave field workers a raise after complaints that they weren’t being paid the $15 an hour Sanders advocates. Sanders complained about staffers going “outside the process” by reaaching out to the media about their treatment.