Kicked While Down
The weeks leading up to November's presidential election saw Miami-Dade County swell with an unending inflow of lawyers from both parties, election observers, human rights-watchers, and activists of all sorts. Locals got in on the excitement as well, working to get out the vote on behalf of their candidates.
The election, of course, left some triumphant and not a few feeling like they'd been kicked in the stomach. Some Miami residents who worked for the Democratic National Committee's gay, lesbian, and transgender outreach program in the weeks prior to November 2 feel doubly wronged -- first by the anti-gay sentiment that seemed to motivate many voters, and second, by the organization they worked for.
"We would have volunteered, if they'd just said öWe can't pay you,'" says Cynthia Trewin. "Instead, they kept telling us to wait until election day, that we'd get paid after that. Then everyone turned off their cell phones and left town." Several workers who signed fifty-dollar-a-day contracts with Grassroots Campaigns, a group that organized some workers for DNC rallies and door-to-door canvassing, were never paid for their work. Trewin, a 21-year-old Kendall resident who signed on with the campaign so that she could do something meaningful while looking for a long-term job, says the money's not the main thing. "I figure I'm owed about four hundred dollars, which isn't a lot, although it would be very helpful," she says. "But it sucks knowing that they just don't seem to care about paying us."
Westchester resident Alvaro Vargas says he knows of at least seven people who were never paid for their work. "It's hard to say exactly how many people never got their money, because the people with all the employee information are gone," Vargas says. "It really seems as if they have no interest, now that the election is over."
Most of the Grassroots and DNC coordinators were only in town for the election and left immediately afterward. Chris Goldberg, an office supervisor, sent all his employees a blustery e-mail comparing November 2 to 9/11 and including lengthy quotes from such luminaries of the American intelligentsia as Norman Mailer and Richard Linklater. His missive was also a goodbye -- "I'm off to Costa Rica for a much-needed break from all this," he wrote. "I don't know when I'll be back -- but I'll come back swingin'." Goldberg's revolutionary fervor was small consolation for eighteen-year-old Michelle London, who is owed about $900 by Grassroots. "I think it's really unprofessional and offensive," she vents. "We were really understanding while we were working up to the election, because we knew everyone was so busy and they promised they'd pay us after. Now there are no excuses."
Goldberg's e-mail included a number to call with "outstanding pay issues," but calls from New Times to the Grassroots Campaigns offices drew results similar to those elicited by angry calls and e-mails from the workers themselves. The first call was to Dan Hyman, who, according to the shafted workers, was the guy who oversaw payment. He was at the number Goldberg left for employees, but claimed to know nothing about unpaid Miami employees. "I'm just a data-entry monkey," he insisted. He recommended another number where Goldberg might be reached. However, upon calling the number, New Times was told that Goldberg was not around (presumably he was still seeking solace abroad), and that the person to talk to was a Grassroots Campaigns flack who never responded to a pair of messages. The only local bigwig who lives nearby is Derrick Hankerson, a Broward County resident. He was a statewide coordinator and says no one from the Miami office even turned in paperwork to start the process of getting some workers paid until a couple of days after the election. "I'm trying to get some information from those people who have not been paid so that we can work towards getting them their money," he says.
"I used up a lot of savings during the campaign, waiting to get paid," counters London. "I worked really hard for them, for something I believed in, and I really didn't think the DNC would fuck us."
Hyman says that checks have been mailed to three of the four employees since New Times started calling Grassroots Campaign, Inc.
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