As efforts to unionize among Democratic political staffers and congressional staffers have increased nationwide, employees of the Utah Democratic Party and Salt Lake County Democratic Party have officially unionized.

Ben Peck, Salt Lake County Democratic Party executive director, said he worked on unionizing political staffers for more than a year before he started his job with the county party. He immediately started the process after he was hired.

He said while he’s been working in politics for four years, it can be a very difficult field because employees care a lot about the work, making it easy to be taken advantage of.

“The reason people work in politics is because they care about the issues and so, you know, what’s working a little late if you’re saving democracy,” Peck said.

Both the state and the county party are affiliating with IBEW Political and Nonprofit Workers.

While unions can often focus on increasing pay for workers, Peck said negotiations for staffers are focused on improving worker conditions. He said very little of the negotiations have been surrounding pay for employees because of the limits of being a nonprofit organization that relies on donor support.

“Ideally, unionizing in other industries where it’s a for-profit business, it’s much more straightforward that workers should just be paid more,” Peck said. “Whereas with an organization like this, there is more of a balancing act but, ultimately, I think that we’ll strike a good balance.”

Instead, they’ll work on getting employees two days off each week and having no-contact hours. They will also focus on protections for outdoor workers to avoid things like doing door-to-door canvassing in 100-degree weather.

“We’re moving in this direction so that everybody can actually treat this as a more normal job, even if we do still really care about the work,” Peck said. “It’ll just help us not get sucked into it and hopefully, reduce or eliminate the high burnout rates among political workers.”

Union benefits will only apply to paid staff, not volunteers or unpaid interns, Peck said.

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Diane Lewis, chairwoman of the Utah Democratic Party, talks on her phone inside her office at the party headquarters in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Utah Democratic Party Chairwoman Diane Lewis said the party is “pleased” to recognize the Utah Democratic Party and Salt Lake County Democratic Party Staff Union in a statement to Deseret News.

“As a former union representative who spent my career helping workers fight for good wages, secure benefits and better working conditions, I recognize the importance of all workers being able to unionize if they so choose,” Lewis said.

Other state Democratic parties have also moved to unionize with Vermont being the first in 2018. Democrats in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have also unionized and are represented by the same union as the party in Utah.

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Earlier this year, staffers for the Democratic National Committee voted to unionize and join the Service Employees International Union with management voluntarily recognizing the union.

Support for unions is written into the Democratic Party platform, which reads, “Democrats will make it easier for workers, public and private, to exercise their right to organize and join unions.”

In July, staffers in eight Democratic U.S. House offices began the unionization process.

That came after the U.S. House voted in May for a resolution recognizing congressional staffers’ right to unionize. It’s unlikely that the U.S. Senate will approve the same resolution.

Stickers on the front reception desk at the Utah Democratic Party headquarters in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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