WASHINGTON — The presidential campaign of Andrew Yang, the insurgent Democratic presidential contender, laid off 130 staffers on Wednesday and Thursday, several former staffers say, including on-the-ground canvassers and organizers who’d been working to prepare for upcoming primary elections in New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
Several newly fired staffers tell Rolling Stone they felt blindsided by the announcement. They say they had their campaign email accounts disabled and then were notified they were fired without any warning or explanation.
“I still very much believe in Andrew’s message but the way his campaign treated staff runs completely counter to the concept of Humanity First,” says Sasha Cohen, a former Iowa field organizer for Yang who was laid off this week. “I believed in the campaign and what it stood for but to be treated this way is disheartening.”
The campaign disputed the total number of employees laid off but declined to give a different figure except to say “dozens.” Yang spokesman SY Lee said the campaign “remains at full strength in New Hampshire, where we expect to compete and outperform expectations.”
Yang campaign manager Zach Graumann said in a statement that the firings were part of the “natural evolution” of the Yang campaign after the Iowa caucuses, in which Yang finished outside of the top tier of candidates.
“As part of our original plans following the Iowa caucuses, we are winding down our Iowa operations and restructuring to compete as the New Hampshire primary approaches,” Graumann said. “These actions are a natural evolution of the campaign post-Iowa, same as other campaigns have undertaken, and Andrew Yang is going to keep fighting for the voices of the more than 400,000 supporters who have donated to the campaign and placed a stake in the future of our country.”
The firings happened four days after the Yang campaign’s unionized employees sent a request to Yang campaign chief Nick Ryan asking for increased monthly pay for all full-time employees, a month’s severance pay at the new rate, and guaranteed expense reimbursement, including for travel and mileage. A former Yang staffer in South Carolina says the pay they received averaged out to a rate of $10 per hour, which they and others felt was insultingly low for the amount of work they were doing. (A campaign spokesman said the $10-an-hour figure was inaccurate.)
At least three of the five unionized campaign staffers who put their names on an internal memo describing their requests lost their jobs in this week’s firings. Cohen, the former Iowa staffer for Yang, says multiple campaign staffers in the first four primary states engaged in work stoppages to try to get the campaign’s leadership to negotiate with the workers. But the actual negotiations never happened before the layoffs took place.
A Yang campaign spokesman says the firings had nothing to do with the negotiations between campaign leaders and the unionized staff. In a statement, spokesman SY Lee said the campaign had attempted to negotiate with the unionized employees but were “rebuffed with no reason given.”
“Our legal team received a memorandum of understanding over the weekend before the Iowa caucuses from these individuals and was not provided sufficient time to review it, even though our campaign has acted in an abundance of good faith in previous negotiations because we strongly support the right to collectively bargain,” Lee said. “However, despite our repeated attempts to negotiate with these select individuals, we were rebuffed with no reason given.”
Lee added: “After months of hard work on the ground organizing volunteers, knocking on doors, and making phone calls, our organizers deserve better. They should not be exploited for personal gain and attention by a select group of individuals with suspect motivations within their ranks.”
“Empowering unions in the 21st century” is listed as one of Yang’s policy priorities on his campaign website. If elected, the website says, Yang says he would defend the collective bargaining rights of workers, pass legislation to protection workers’ ability to organize on the job, and push for “sectoral bargaining” that would allow unionized workers in the tech industry to stay in a union when they move between jobs.
The former Yang staffer in South Carolina says they still believe in Yang’s candidacy and message but felt disappointed by how the layoffs were handled. “If a campaign is going to claim to be different and have different values, at some point you need to live them,” the former staffer says.