Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) campaign is under fire for allegedly misleading applicants of the campaign’s volunteer fellowship program, according to a report from the Daily Beast.
Two Warren supporters who applied for the program described the process as both “deceptive” and “exploitative.”
According to the Daily Beast:
They said they were pushed toward unpaid positions over paid ones, misled over the availability of financial assistance, and asked to sign highly restrictive nondisclosure agreements that worker advocacy groups concede are irregular. Both applicants verified their accounts with emails and text messages from the Warren campaign.
Like other Democrats running for the White House, Warren’s campaign offers paid internships. But unlike many others, the campaign also offers volunteer fellowships and volunteer fellowships for academic credit.
Seton Hall University senior Jonathan Nendze, who was accepted into the program, described it as a “great scam,” telling the Daily Beast that the unpaid volunteers were essentially expected to “function as a paid intern.”
“What was sold to me was very different than it actually was,” Nendze said.
“The way they always communicated it was always fellow/intern, like they were synonymous,” he continued. “Their application kind of took advantage of people who were really eager to get experience.”
He also said the campaign was deliberately vague when discussing the possibility of payment during the application process.
“I had no information about where to go, if I was being paid. If they had told me upfront that I was unpaid, maybe I would have been able to prepare better,” Nendze said.
While he was eventually brought on board as a volunteer, he was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement–an unusual request for an unpaid volunteer. It instructed him “not [to] communicate with any member of the press” and barred him from making any statement that “may impair or otherwise adversely affect the goodwill or reputation” of Warren or her entities:
Warren’s campaign, which brought in $19.1 million in fundraising during the second quarter of 2019, declined to comment specifically on the use of NDAs for volunteer fellowship positions. Additionally, it has defended the use of unpaid volunteer fellowships on grounds that many fellows “receive stipends from educational institutions or other third-parties” and that those in the intern and fellowship programs have “access to cost-free supporter housing while they’re working in-state.” But according to internal campaign emails obtained by The Daily Beast, the campaign has not always clearly conveyed this to the fellows themselves.
Another volunteer accepted in the fellowship position, only identified as Cole, was allegedly led to believe that the program would provide housing.
“There’s this great housing program,” Polk County field organizer Grace Smith said after Cole expressed his concerns.
Anna Kucher, the campaign’s regional organizing director, sent out an introductory email to the oncoming crew but failed to give them solid answers about housing:
About two weeks later, she sent a follow-up note. “I know you are all anxious to receive your housing details, and I will be sending out emails on a rolling basis based on when you submitted your request from Today – Thursday,” she wrote on June 10. “Don’t worry about not having a bed to sleep in, we have enough hosts confirmed and are just putting together the puzzle pieces of folks timeline here in IA, allergies, etc. Once you receive your host contact info, it’s very important that you reach out to the immediately within 24 hours to confirm logistics and details of your arrival!”
With less than a week to go before the fellowship was set to begin, there was still no solid answer about housing, and Cole opted out before jumping on board.
“Before you start a campaign you should have these basic processes done,” he said, according to the Daily Beast. “To be treated the way I was is disheartening.”