By Sharon Bernstein
(Reuters) – Former organizers for Michael Bloomberg’s unsuccessful presidential bid sued the billionaire’s campaign on Monday, saying he laid them off amid the global coronavirus pandemic after promising pay and benefits through the November election.
Employees resigned from good jobs to take positions with Bloomberg’s campaign, and they now face unemployment and the loss of their health insurance in the midst of the spreading virus, field organizers Alexis Sklair, Sterling Rettke and Nathaniel Brown said in their complaint, one of two proposed class action lawsuits potentially representing thousands of workers.
“They promised salaries nearly double that of other campaigns,” alleged their complaint, filed on Monday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. “And they pledged to keep this promise regardless of whether Bloomberg won the Democratic nomination.”
Donna Wood, an organizer in Miami, said in a separate complaint that she was laid off last week despite promises of continued employment.
Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York, was a late entrant to the Democratic Party’s nominating race and then abruptly exited after a disappointing showing on March 3, the first time his name appeared on ballots.
Seeking to assuage concerns that he was a spoiler in the race to challenge Republican Donald Trump for the presidency in November, Bloomberg had said publicly that he would keep his campaign offices open through the election so employees could work for whoever became the Democratic nominee.
Bloomberg has since endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, who leads remaining rival Bernie Sanders in delegates. But the nominating contest is now on hold as several states have postponed their primary elections due to coronavirus concerns.
On Friday, Bloomberg field organizers were laid off from their jobs. The same day, Bloomberg said he would donate $18 million to the Democratic National Committee.
In an emailed statement to Reuters on Monday, the campaign did not address the allegations made in the lawsuits but said Bloomberg had been generous with employees.
“Staff worked 39 days on average, but they were also given several weeks of severance and healthcare through March, something no other campaign did this year,” the campaign said.
To help former employees weather the coronavirus crisis, Bloomberg is creating a fund to provide healthcare through the month of April, the campaign said.
Both lawsuits, which must first be approved as a class action by the court, seek overtime as well as full pay and benefits through the November election for Wood and other employees. The lawsuit filed by Sklair, Rettke and Brown seeks punitive damages.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)