U.S.-PIRG Fund sued for $2.15 Million by employees

The Fund for Public Interest Research, a fundraising and canvassing operation that raises money for American non-profit organizations recently settled a $2.15-million class action suit brought on by canvassers who worked for the organization between December 2000 and May 2007.

The suit alleged that the Fund failed to pay workers for overtime, improperly classified them as independent contractors to avoid paying social security, withheld wages, and often paid below the minimum wage. The settlement also required that “on top of the $2.15 million, the Fund will pay the employer portion of payroll taxes” in order to rectify these violations.

A frequent employer of university students in the U.S., the Fund is hired by organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Human Rights Campaign, and Environment America to employ canvassers. As an extension of the American Public Interest Research Group (U.S.–PIRG), the group provides funding and organizational support to PIRGs across the United States.

Livingston Miller (U2 English), a McGill student who worked for the Fund this past summer canvassing for Environment America, said that the U.S.-PIRG’s “overtime policy is quite horrible: half-time for all hours overtime, which seems to me completely immoral.”

The Fund, and the canvassing model it uses to support activism, have come under criticism for both its labour practices and ineffectiveness. Dana Fisher, a professor of sociology at Columbia University and author of the book Activism Inc., surveyed 115 of the organization canvassers. In her book Fisher found that despite the group’s progressive politics, they have engaged in “union busting tactics [that] have been employed by corporations like Wal-Mart,” including closing down a California office when the workers attempted to unionize.

Miller noted that his experience with U.S.-PIRG’s labour standards could have had greater implications: “If I weren’t a very resolute person it would have disenchanted me altogether toward progressive politics,” he said.