Millions of Americans are worried about keeping their jobs and their pre-pandemic wage and salary levels as the coronavirus rages. But few of them can cite a legal and moral claim on continued pay from the man with the deepest pockets of anyone in public life, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Those who do are joining forces and lawyering up, as the New York Times reports:
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.
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.”
As you may recall, Bloomberg built the most formidable organization in the Democratic presidential field virtually overnight after jumping into the race in late November of last year. He was able to do that because his vast wealth let him offer pay at nearly double the going rate, as the Times noted just last month before everything fell apart for Bloomberg 2020:
The campaign’s pay for field organizers, the equivalent of $72,000 annually, is well above the $42,000 that other campaigns have offered. Bloomberg staff members have also been issued campaign-owned electronics, including Apple laptops and the latest-generation iPhones, which a spokeswoman said were distributed with cybersecurity in mind….
Reflecting similar premiums, Mr. Bloomberg’s state communications directors and state political directors uniformly receive $12,000 monthly, according to the campaign, while state press secretaries make $10,000 monthly and the campaign’s national political director commands $30,000 a month, or $360,000 annually.
But if the pay was great, a promise to keep it coming no matter who won the nomination made the Bloomberg campaign unique in the annals of American politics, as Vanity Fair reported:
The money is certainly a nice lure, but the more intriguing part of the Bloomberg campaign’s employment pitch is that the field-organizing jobs will go through November, even if he loses this spring. Bloomberg is pledging to deploy a field operation on behalf of whoever becomes the Democratic nominee.
The idea is that a Bloomberg-funded superpac would pick up the campaign’s infrastructure and put it into the service of the nominee. But last week the former candidate threw a big changeup: folding the superpac and laying off its employees, and instead giving the Democratic National Committee $18 million for general election organizing staff–far from the billion dollars or so he had been talking about spending for that purpose. Whatever it meant for the party, it was a disaster for the affected veterans of the Bloomberg campaign, as I observed at the time:
[A]t the beginning of what is almost certain to be a deep recession, these previously fat-and-happy Bloomberg staffers will have to hit the bricks and look for work, or beg the DNC for jobs, which will probably pay about half the lucrative salaries the megabillionaire was offering to lure talent into his campaign to offset his late start.
It wasn’t a great time to lose health benefits, either.
So it’s not surprising some of those suddenly laid off are going to court.
It seems the field organizers, at least, generally signed at-will employment contracts exposing them to sudden termination. But as Politico reports, their attorneys counter that they “can bring these claims based on evidence that they were induced to sign on because of the longevity promises made to them.” The plaintiffs do have another handicap in speaking out on the dispute:
Attorney for one of the group of litigants said in a statement that while “our clients would like to speak publicly about their experiences, they are potentially subject to a confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement with Mike Bloomberg 2020. We respectfully request that the Bloomberg campaign release our clients and the other field staffers from that agreement, even though it may not be enforceable.”
You can probably date the demise of the Bloomberg campaign to the first mention in a presidential debate by rival Elizabeth Warren of the candidate’s past NDAs with women who accused him of harassing behavior. So it’s probably a sore subject for him today, which may be part of the reason the attorneys for his aggrieved ex-employees are bringing it up right now.