The union workers on Matthew Mitnick’s campaign for City Council District 4 formally severed ties with the Seattle Democratic Socialists of America (SDSA) and rejected its endorsement in a letter sent on March 17. SDSA members who formerly worked or volunteered on the campaign say good fucking riddance–they wanted to un-endorse him anyway.
In a public statement released Thursday, the former Mitnick supporters accused the candidate of violating child labor laws and creating a toxic work environment marked by humiliation and retaliation. They also claimed he owes two former campaign managers a combined $11,000 and even more to other young people who say he promised them compensation. The alleged broken promises inspire little confidence among former supporters that Mitnick will keep his word to represent the left should he earn a spot on the council.
On the other side, the letter from Mitnick’s current unionized staff acknowledged many of the allegations but insisted scorned volunteers are out to “shake the campaign down for money” and defame current campaign staff with unsubstantiated allegations of abuse. The workers said behavior from SDSA members has hindered the campaign and harmed its workers’ well-being. The letter threatened legal action.
The conflict means trouble for the Mitnick campaign regardless of who is right or wrong. These organizers may have truly snuffed a socialist poser, in which case the left could save itself from rallying around an unfit candidate. Or Mitnick’s campaign may have run into rotten luck with managers and volunteers, in which case in-fighting within the already institutionally disadvantaged left could tank his campaign anyway. Either way, as the only self-proclaimed socialist candidate in the city, the chances of keeping a left perspective on the City Council seem to be growing slimmer and slimmer.
Bye, Bye Bailey
Mitnick launched his candidacy last November under the moniker of a “youth movement” with Bailey Medilo, a then 17-year-old SDSA member who was listed as “campaign manager” on his website and press releases. Both parties agreed the gig was temporary until they could hire a full-time campaign manager.
On January 31, Mitnick released Medilo of his duties as campaign manager due to complaints from other high school volunteers, but then he offered him a part-time position that would be paid starting in March. Medilo declined the offer.
Medilo characterized Mitnick’s behavior on this demotion call as “abusive.” He claimed Mitnick used an “incredibly callous and threatening tone” during the conversation, cut him off, rolled his eyes when Medilo started to cry, told him he wasn’t “enough” for the campaign, and fired him before joining a union.
Even if Mitnick’s complaints were true–and Medilo says they weren’t–then he felt the candidate could have let him go in a more humane and professional manner.
Mitnick denied the claims. His friend and advisor, Mario Falit-Baiamonte, joined him on the call. He refuted Medilo’s claims, adding the meeting was “pretty standard” in his experience with tough campaign conversations.
There is no recording of the conversation to verify either side.
Good Old-Fashioned Free Child Labor
Regardless of the way his work on the campaign ended, Medilo and his allies felt the former campaign manager deserved $9,300 for his work from November 15 through January based on the rate they allegedly agreed on.
According to Medilo, he and Mitnick made a verbal agreement that the campaign would pay Medilo $30 per hour for 28 hours per week. However, Medilo did not get that promise in writing, which he acknowledges was a mistake–“I should have protected my labor, but I was 17.” Besides, Mitnick considers himself pro-worker, so Medilo trusted him to hold up his end of the bargain with or without a contract.
According to job description drafts from an old Mitnick campaign drive, all positions would be paid $25 an hour, lower than Medilo’s figure. The documents did not include a campaign manager description or wage. They did not indicate the campaign had actually hired anyone, and no staff member received hiring papers until February, according to current staff.
The union called his demand an “extortion attempt” and insisted Medilo worked in a volunteer capacity during those three months like many of them had.
The Stranger received several documents that point to a discrepancy over whether Medilo counted as a volunteer or as staff. For one, Medilo signed up as a volunteer on November 19 through a portal on the campaign website, according to documents provided by the campaign.
Medilo also asked in a December text if he counted as a “dedicated volunteer.” SDSA requires the campaign to secure a certain number of those kinds of volunteers to qualify for its endorsement. To make his case, he said the campaign “technically” does not pay him. SDSA counted him as a “dedicated volunteer” when he signed up on the internal survey.
Similarly, other messages show SDSA leadership referring to Medilo as “soon to be paid” staff in discussing his ability to participate in the endorsement process.
In response to the text logs, Medilo repeated that he did not expect regular paychecks, as the campaign did not have funds at the time (a problem the Mitnick campaign still faces as they try to qualify for vouchers).
Medilo claimed the alleged verbal agreement would start paying him “back pay” in February, a few weeks before he rejected the new role on the campaign.
Medilo also disputed the notion that signing up as a “volunteer” on the campaign website or the SDSA survey made him a “volunteer.” He said campaign managers often “volunteer” outside of working hours. He considered time outside of his alleged 28 hours a week agreement as “volunteer.”
Another former volunteer said that Mitnick had been very clear with her about her role as a volunteer, but he did mention he may start offering compensation after the campaign had raised enough to afford it.
She chalked up the misunderstanding to naivety.
“Often when you do work for a local campaign, if they have money and they're a good person, they'll probably try to give you some of it, but realistically a local campaign is not going to have a ton of money,” she said.
Team Mitnick eventually offered Medilo $5,000 to compensate him, or shut him up, or whatever. That $5,000 would come from a $3,000 bonus Mitnick promised Medilo once he qualified for Democracy Vouchers and two $1,000 bonuses that other workers agreed to forfeit. Medilo told The Stranger he did not want to take from the other workers–“it's not their fault [Mitnick] tossed me”–so he declined the offer. The letter from the Mitnick team confirms this sequence of events.
SDSA members who support Medilo met with the Mitnick campaign to negotiate on Medilo’s behalf. He did not attend the meeting, as he “felt unsafe” around Mitnick. Attendees told The Stranger that the campaign printed out pamphlets laying out their grievances with Medilo which they said amounted to "bullying." They could not provide The Stranger with a copy.
The two parties did not come to an agreement about compensation and Medilo did not get paid. However, Mitnick agreed to remove Medilo’s graphics from his website and other campaign materials within a week. The campaign has since removed the graphics from the website, but they still use a logo Medilo designed on their weekly emails as recently as March 23. Mitnick said the campaign is actively trying to remedy the situation.
The takeaway from the Mitnick campaign: Write everything down.
“Hindsight 2020, there probably should have been something signed. It was a scatterbrained mistake,” said Falit-Baiamonte.
So Much For a “Youth Movement”
After Medilo’s departure, more young organizers fled the campaign.
High school senior Gabe Dillin told The Stranger that Mitnick promised him compensation for his work as a “field organizer” on the campaign. He said he worked a total of 40 hours, which at $25 per hour, amounts to $1,000. Again, the two did not sign a written agreement.
The campaign said Dillin had not been brought onto the campaign, even in an informal capacity. He registered as a volunteer on the website, according to campaign documentation.
Falit-Baiamonte said most of the other students who left the campaign were friends of Medilo.
In a lengthy resignation in Slack, a youth volunteer praised Medilo’s hard work and support of volunteers. She called on others to join her, writing, “Why continue volunteering for a campaign that claims to be youth-led but is actively harming and pushing out the youth it claims to center?”
The young letter signatories also accuse Mitnick of violating child labor laws because he did not file a Minor Workplace Permit. I'm not a lawyer, but, according to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industry's website, that permit law exempts volunteers for "nonprofit, government, or religious organizations." If the signatories can prove they were "hired," though, then they might be able to nail Mitnick for that in a courtroom.
But the youth is not in total agreement about the state of the movement.
“We have a robust campaign that is centered around youth,” the 22 year-old candidate said in an email to The Stranger. “We have many youth volunteers and our campaign is about making Seattle livable for the next generation through a Green New Deal, Rent Control, and Community Control over the Police. Our core group of youth volunteers that launched this campaign are still involved and excited to continue this race.”
Falit-Baiamonte said the campaign lost some other young people not because of Mitnick but because of Medilo.
A former social media volunteer described Medilo as “aggressive,” “minimizing of others,” and “incredibly difficult to work with” to the point that she did not accept a full-time position on Mitnick’s campaign.
“Seeing everything that's happening in the fallout, it feels like [Medilo] is trying to take advantage of the situation or trying to paint a villain out of Matthew and other people who are genuinely just trying to make impactful change for Seattle,” she told The Stranger under the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution at her new workplace.
Medilo did not file a complaint with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Committee (SEEC), but he briefly tried to bring a vote to the SDSA membership to rescind its endorsement of Mitnick. He gave up when SDSA’s annual convention delayed the effort, but said the letter from Mitnick’s campaign rejecting SDSA’s endorsement brought him a sigh of relief. Now he’s calling other endorsers, volunteers, and donors to pull out before Mitnick screws voters the way Medilo says Mitnick screwed him.
“Don't endorse abuse. Don't endorse humiliation. Don't endorse retaliation. Don't endorse intimidation. Don't endorse Matthew Mitnick,” Medilo told The Stranger.
Fool Me Once
On Feb 6, Mitnick hired a new campaign manager, Diamond Coal, who is not a high school student and who has worked on several campaigns in Seattle. Coal joined the youth organizers in signing their Thursday public statement, claiming Mitnick also treated her unfairly and failed to compensate her.
“I have $100 in my checking account,” Coal said. “If [Mitnick] doesn’t pay me, I’ll have to crowdfund my April rent.”
According to evidence Mitnick produced for The Stranger on April 5, a week after the original publication of this article, he texted Coal to say he would feel "more comfortable" putting her and others to work after they had money in the bank. "Fundraising is unpredictable," he wrote, and he didn't want to commit to paying before he had the money "in hand." In the text, he said he did not expect voucher money until mid March.
Coal went ahead with signing a contract anyway.
"I think everyone enters campaigns knowing they might not work out and we might not get paid," Coal said in Signal thread.
Mitnick gave her a full-time gig and agreed to pay her a stipend of $4,000 every month, delivered in two installments. Mitnick paid Coal for her work in the month of February, but, as of March 28, Mitnick is 13 days late on her latest paycheck.
Mitnick told Coal to “pause work” on March 6.
The next day, Mitnick texted her, asking for a “heart-to-heart” in person. Coal refused because she wanted all further communication via email. In an earlier version of this story, The Stranger wrote that Mitnick did not respond. He has since sent The Stranger evidence showing he texted her the next day, asking her to let him know if she no longer wanted to work on the campaign. Mitnick said he assumed she voluntarily resigned from the campaign, since she did not respond or show up to meetings.
On March 9, a former campaign staffer tipped off Coal about a letter from the union that stated they had voted to remove her. She called it a “quick and humiliating ousting.” Not only did she lose her job, but the staff wrote a detailed list of why they didn’t like working with her, which felt like overkill to Coal.
The union has not sent her the letter to officially fire her. Coal said it's unclear if they can fire her because her contract says, “Matthew for the Many cannot terminate the relationship prior to unionization.”
The rest of the staff already unionized, but she was not included because she was a manager. She could join another union for campaign managers, but Coal believes she should be part of the other workers’ bargaining unit. She argues that “Manager” is an empty title in her case, since she is paid the same as the other full-time staffer and does not have the power to hire or fire. “My title could be rubber duck queen. It wouldn’t matter. It's just a title,” she said.
Coal and the campaign union told largely the same story about why she was pushed out: She suggested cutting two staff members to balance the budget and increase her own pay.
On March 5, Coal advised Mitnick to make staffing cuts, naming two part-time workers she felt the campaign could do without. At the time, Mitnick had six workers on payroll, which would run him $15,500 per month, or about $77,000 between March and the August primary. She worried this came at the expense of “meat and potatoes” campaign expenses like consultants, mailers, and the voter database known as NGP VAN.
“We have always believed in investing in labor,” Mitnick said in an email. “Since day one, we’ve made it clear that we will hire no consultants and invest in our rank and file workers first and foremost. This is why we were concerned when both [Medilo and Coal] tried to bring on paid consultants, and especially when [Coal] suggested firing staff in order to do so.”
Coal told The Stranger she finds it funny that after her budget concerns, the campaign took her advice. The letter fired her and eliminated the role of campaign manager, which will save the campaign $20,000 from April to the August primary. They just decided to keep Mitnick’s “besties” on the payroll, Coal said.
Coal said she spoke to the SEEC but did not file a formal complaint.
When Coal got ousted, the campaign’s communication manager also quit. She said she did not receive her March 15 check either.
According to current campaign worker Arianna Laureno, none of the staffers have been paid yet. Yes, they expected a check on March 15, but that payment got pushed back because they had yet to qualify for Democracy Vouchers.
“All staff understood going into the campaign that payment was contingent on Democracy Vouchers, and we will pay all staff as soon as the backlog for qualification is resolved,” Mitnick said, backed by Laureno.
Mitnick pinned the delay on “harassment” from Medilo, and the union blamed Coal for not processing Democracy Vouchers per her campaign duties. All the campaign's energy is currently devoted to processing the rest of the vouchers. The former Mitnick supporters alleged that the campaign's undivided attention to vouchers amounts to a "grift" to scam constituents and cash out. But the campaign said they are focused on vouchers in order to pay staff, hopefully sometime next month.
Coal said she wants to nip Mitnick’s political aspirations in the bud.
“The hypocrisy of it all. He claims to be pro labor and against big bad bosses, but he's the worst boss I've ever had,” Coal said.
Coal said she understands asking voters and organizations to stop supporting Mitnick could hinder her ability to get paid, but she would rather voters not give Mitnick another cent or signature to qualify for Democracy Vouchers. Even if it comes at her own financial expense, she would rather the campaign die in the water.
“He’s good at breaking promises and betraying trust,” Coal said. “He’d be a great politician. Just not for us.”
But not everyone in DSA wants Mitnick’s campaign to kick rocks.
In an email to The Stranger, the SDSA Local Council said they find Mitnick’s separation “unfortunate, as we were enthused by the political stances and commitment of [Mitnick], and saw his campaign as providing an important voice for working class and marginalized communities.”
The local council denied the accusation that SDSA did not try in good faith to mediate the conflict, which they had worked on since early February at the campaign’s request. Now, the conflict is in the hands of the chapter’s Harassment and Grievances Officers (HGOs). Further action from SDSA will wait until they receive a report from the HGOs’ investigation. This could have resulted in an eventual un-endorsement had the Mitnick team not cut ties.
While the SDSA Local Council said they have “taken no position on the allegations by either side,” the greater Seattle left certainly will. That is, if the candidate doesn't drop the alleged "grift" and cash out Democracy Voucher money, as the former supports allege. For now, Mitnick said he's not planning on taking the money and running back to Wisconsin.
“We are a youth led movement that is accountable to the needs of our district—and the voices that haven’t been heard by city hall. We are fighting for real, actionable changes. This campaign is elevating issues that have gone unaddressed for decades. We will continue to fight for change,” Mitnick said.
This article has been updated.