PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Host Committee for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia has paid out nearly a million dollars to staff members, and local institutions, from leftover money it raised to stage the event.
But, dozens of people who worked in the field elsewhere in the country for Democrats feel shortchanged and are now part of a class action federal lawsuit.
The bonuses ranged from $500 for interns to more than $300,000 for the executive director.
“I think everyone’s reaction is the same. It’s obscene,” says Justin Swidler, a Cherry Hill-based attorney.
Swidler is pursuing a lawsuit on behalf of 40-to-50 “field organizers” all over the country, whom he says were denied overtime compensation.
“One of the arguments that the Democrats are making is that they just don’t have the money to pay overtime to their workers,” said Swidler.
The named defendants are the Democratic National Committee, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and five more state party organizations.
“These workers were out there in a campaign that was promising $15 an hour minimum wage, and expanding the overtime rights of workers,” Swidler said.
Former Governor Ed Rendell, who served as chairman of the Host Committee, points out those were “totally different operations.” He says none of the plaintiffs worked for the Host Committee, and it was not named in the suit.
“In fact, we gave our interns, and our unpaid volunteers, bonuses at the end,” said Rendell.
Rendell notes when he hired Host Committee workers, he made it clear, since they didn’t know how much money would be raised, salaries would be below market rates.
Rendell says because of a surplus, they were able to do “salary adjustments and bonuses.” Also, leftover money went to the School District of Philadelphia ($750,000) and several non-profits ($10,000 each to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Food Trust of Philadelphia, and the Committe of Seventy, and $25,000 each to Independence Visitor Center and Visit Philly).
One of the lead plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit is Bethany Katz of Rosemont.
Swidler says she and others believed in the Democratic platform and ideals, and put in 80-to-90-hours a week in the last stages of the race to support Hillary Clinton.
“They got paid a flat salary of $3,000 a month, which isn’t even minimum wage for some of the hours that they were working,” said Swidler.
He says the lawsuit seeks “fair pay for fair work,” and holding the Democratic Party to the very ideals that it embraces.