With the pivotal Iowa caucuses coming up on February 3, Biden campaign staffers have had at least one concern besides the election: their own safety.
On December 30, with Iowa sheathed in snow, the campaign’s regional organizing director for Iowa, Kay Glad, instructed staffers that its inclement weather policy was being suspended, according to staff text messages reviewed by The Nation.
The policy had allowed them to avoid driving during potentially hazardous weather conditions, but, at that busy time, it was being called off.
“Hey guys, all weather policy is dissolved throughout the entire state because we have five weeks left until the election,” Kay Glad, Biden’s regional organizing director for Iowa, informed staffers. “If it feels like unsafe driving conditions, then talk to me separately but quite frankly I don’t want to hear any complaints because you know how important this is and how much time we have left.”
Glad added: “By showing an ability to be adaptable, flexible, and willing to what [sic] you’ve been hired to do, then that is the most basic threshold of demonstrating your ability of leading others. Every single day is an audition for post-Iowa.”
Glad’s admonition carries with it a sad irony. In 1972, both Biden’s then-wife and daughter died in a fatal car accident when a truck broadsided them while they were shopping for a Christmas tree. He has frequently referenced the tragedy in public as well as during this campaign.
The text messages were provided to The Nation by a Biden staffer on the condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to speak. The staffer also said that there had been at least five different car accidents among the campaign’s Iowa staffers between Christmas and New Years Day alone. Citing a recent car accident that resulted in the death of a Warren campaign volunteer, the staffer described other campaign workers as fearful of another potential accident.
In September, Zachary Presberg, a former field organizing fellow and volunteer for the Warren campaign in Iowa, died when his car was struck by a semitruck while he tried to pass another vehicle. Presberg was 22.
In 2016, Braden Joplin, an Iowa staffer for Ben Carson’s presidential campaign, died in a car accident while trying to navigate slick roads, which left three other campaign staff injured. Joplin was 25.
Responding to a request for comment, a Biden campaign official confirmed that Glad had suspended the weather policy, but said she had acted unilaterally and was subsequently reprimanded and her team was given proper guidance.
“Our campaign’s most important asset is the staff working tirelessly around the country to help Joe Biden defeat Donald Trump and restore the soul of our nation,” Julie Kriger, Biden’s Iowa communications director, said in a comment. “That’s why we always prioritize their safety and well-being and have put in place policies both in Iowa and nationally to ensure that they remain safe in hazardous weather conditions.”
Another Biden campaign representative added: “Kay is one of eight regional organizing directors in the state [and] supervises about a dozen organizers.”
The Nation also contacted the Sanders, Buttigieg, Warren, and Klobuchar campaigns to ask if they have inclement weather policies to protect staffers.
A Klobuchar campaign spokesperson responded: “Extreme weather conditions have previously resulted in the campaign having staffers work from home. When inclement weather causes hazardous conditions, we make it a point for members of the campaign to consider personal safety first when evaluating their ability to report to work.”
At the time of this writing, none of the other campaigns have replied.
Poor working conditions are all too familiar to campaign staffers, who often work long hours for low pay.
“The labor conditions were abysmal,” Matt Cain said about his time as an Iowa field organizer for Obama’s first presidential campaign, citing long hours and low pay. “The expectation was 14-to-16-hour workdays. Four hours of sleep was pretty common.”
Despite these conditions, presidential campaigns have only just begun to unionize. In May of 2019, Bernie Sanders’s campaign became the first presidential campaign staff in US history to unionize and is now represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400. In a similarly unprecedented turn, several campaigns followed, including that of Warren and Buttigieg, both represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 2320, and Booker and Klobuchar, represented by the Teamsters Local 238.
Jesse Case, a labor representative for the Iowa campaign workers, did not respond to a request for comment. Shortly after The Nation contacted Case, the Biden campaign issued an e-mail to staff reiterating the original inclement weather policy, which is now again in effect.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional comments from the Biden campaign.