Former campaign workers press for back pay from mayoral candidate

August 7, 2019
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Several former campaign workers for mayoral candidate Amara Enyia say she owes them and a number of other staffers more than $50,000 in pay for work they did in the weeks leading up to the February 2019 election.

“We are workers, and we deserve to be compensated as such,” said Nathan Susman, former field staff member for the Amara for Mayor 2019 Campaign.

Susman was joined Monday by four former field staffers Chris Harlan, Joshua Maddux, Claire Anderson and Grace Del Vecchio as well as Vanessa Quevedo, a family member of a another former staffer, at a City Hall press conference.

Monday’s press conference follows stories last week in the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times that first reported the former campaign workers’ pay complaints.

Enyia, who placed sixth out of 14 mayoral candidates in February, faces a class-action wage and overtime theft grievance filed by about two dozen staffers who worked for her campaign.

Michael Matulis, public information officer for the Illinois Department of Labor, confirmed last week the state agency had received a total of 23 wage claim complaints as of July 30.

In a July 29th press release, the former workers allege that Enyia – along with campaign manager Joshua Gray, field director Marcus Ferrell,  operations director Pilar Audain-Reed and treasurer Deanna Grant – failed to disperse wages and overtime to 24 junior level staffers, didn’t reimburse promised expenses, provided paychecks to workers that were later returned by their bank as insufficient, and had knowledge of the campaign’s inability to compensate workers and withheld that information from junior staffers.

In a statement Enyia released July 30, she said there was a group meeting where the team decided the values of holding leadership accountable outweighed the monetary compensation they were due. She added that the pending complaints are “unsettling.” Enyia did not respond to specific questions.

At Monday’s press conference, Harlan said the meeting Enyia references in her statement was held March 15 and no decision was reached. He said Enyia did not address the topic of the staffers’ pay until one of them asked if they would be getting paid.

Then, he said, Enyia responded by saying if she agreed to endorse either of the two final candidates – Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle or eventual winner Lori Lightfoot – she would do so in exchange for getting help to pay off the payroll debt.

Harlan said everyone in the room was silent because they were made to feel responsible for not being paid in the first place.

“This is not a position that the people who were owed wages should have to be put into choosing,” Harlan said, adding that it was insulting for Enyia to do so.

Enyia said in her statement she was honest with her team about the post-campaign challenges, held several online fundraisers and two live fundraisers – both of which occurred in April and the staffers were not informed how much was raised, according to Harlan.

Enyia also stated in last week’s press release that she had began making small payments to her staff, adding that campaign debts are not unusual and insisted she’s been transparent throughout. Harlan said small payments were given to a selected number of 20 staffers who were notified via email May 30 by Audain-Reed.

“It is not normal to have campaign debt, and if it is normal, then that is not a standard we should normalize or accept,” Harlan said.

Hesaid field staffers for the campaign were on payroll from Jan. 1 through Feb. 27, but a number of staffers were not paid for the last two weeks of the campaign as well as overtime hours. He said junior staffers were promised their pay by March 15 after originally being promised their back pay by March 1.

In all, staffers allege the campaign committee, Friends of Amara Enyia, owes $56,825 in unpaid wages, overtime pay, minimum wage violations and unreimbursed expenses. State campaign finance records show Enyia’s committee had $5,296.22 in cash as of June 30.

Harlan said in addition to being paid what they’re owed, Enyia’s campaign staffers deserve a apology from their former boss.

“Those people who want to normalize this have no business trying to run to represent working-class communities, communities of color or black communities where they already are marginalized and violated,” Harlan said.

Enyia served as the head of the Austin Chamber of Commerce for several years before leaving that post in April. “It was a good time to do so,” she said in the July 30 press release.

Melody Lewis, outreach director for the chamber and a sales associate for ROS Real Estate, has been serving as interim director.

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