Non-managerial staff members of the Oklahoma Democratic Party are the first in the nation among state Democratic Party headquarters to officially unionize with a signed contract.
And they did it with the full support of management and party leadership.
It is a significant move for those who toil in the engine rooms of party politics where the next fund-raising event and 24/7 campaign pressures can create an always-on-everywhere work environment.
“We already enjoy a positive work culture, but by unionizing, we have brought another level of professionalism to the office for a more productive workforce moving forward,” Angela Almond said in an email response to our questions.
She’s the communications director for ODP and joined with staffer Andrew Rickle to represent their office staff in negotiations.
“Newly established procedures outlined in our contract will provide continued and uninterrupted support to candidates, leaders, and party members during administrative changes as the party elects new leaders every two years.”
Leading the way
March 11, 2017, Oklahoma Democratic Party leadership voted unanimously to change the non-management staff’s employment status from “at-will” to “just-cause.”
At-will employees can be fired for any reason. Just-cause employment requires the employer to state clearly the reasons why employment is terminated.
In that vote, leadership also expressed that they welcomed the staff to start organizing with a labor union of their choice.
The bargaining process then started October 16, 2017, and concluded May 23, 2018.
“It’s making me a better manager already,” ODP Chair Anna Langthorn told Free Press when she gave us a few minutes out of her busy schedule Thursday.
The state party chair is also the executive director and runs the day-to-day operations of the party.
“I’m very excited. I think that staff is excited. It’s been a long process. In the end, we got a document that we are all going to be happy with.”
She said paid family leave, vacation, sick leave and other work benefits are now clearly defined in their contract.
But especially working for an organization that elects new leadership every two years and has many volunteers who serve on the party’s board of directors, the consistency and uniformity of treatment will create consistency the party has not had, said Langthorn.
Langthorn believes that the party itself will become more effective over time with consistency.
“Over the course of time I would say that some of the lack of success in the state has come from inconsistency within the state party office,” she said.
In past years, all staff could be sent out the door upon the election of a new state party chair.
She said she has not made a decision about running for state party chair again in 2019.
“If I run again, I may or may not get re-elected. In that instance, if there’s a new chair, all of these staff will still be here protected by this union agreement in their roles.”
“And if they are dismissed, it will have to be for cause and not just because there is a new administration.”
Langthorn told us it is very significant that the Democratic Party in Oklahoma is living its values of standing up for workers to have the right of union representation and collective bargaining.
“We’re on the leading edge of how modern labor and industry is going to work,” Langthorn said.
“As the US moves to a more service-based economy, a more office-based economy, we’re going to need a reconciliation and a conversation about that office employees can be just as abused as industry employees can.”
The issues are the same across all workplaces she said.
“Just because you’re working in an office environment and not in a factory environment doesn’t mean you don’t have those same rights, too.”
The labor union the six employees chose to be a part of was the Office & Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), Local No. 381.
She said typically, that union represents office workers who work for organizations where leaders are elected by members such as labor unions.
But the union also represents many office and clerical workers across a broad range of businesses.
According to information on the union’s website, they have 104,000 members representing 110,000 workers in all fifty states, Puerto Rico and Canada.