As he prepared to join Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign in late January, Gregoire Poirier said he had stopped taking clients through his consulting firm, assured by the campaign that his job as a field organizer would be safe through November, even if Bloomberg wasn’t the Democratic nominee.
But that evaporated on March 20, he said, when the Salem resident and thousands of others were told, via conference call, they would be laid off at month’s end after Bloomberg suspended his campaign. They could keep their campaign-provided phones and laptops but were warned they would be taxed as additional income, Poirier said.
“It couldn’t have been colder,” the 62-year-old said.
Poirier and other former field organizers on Wednesday sued Bloomberg in Massachusetts state court, arguing that he had promised to keep them and thousands of others employed into the fall, only to lay them off just as the COVID-19 pandemic began crippling the economy.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Middlesex County Superior Court, echoes allegations in a pair of federal lawsuits filed by former workers against Bloomberg in New York.
The Massachusetts complaint says Bloomberg, a Medford native, hired at least 60 people to help his operation here ahead of the Super Tuesday elections on March 3 and had “guaranteed” they’d keep their jobs. In some cases, the former workers turned down other job opportunities, relocated from other states, or stopped looking for other work “in reasonable reliance on this promise," according to the complaint.
In an e-mailed statement, a Bloomberg spokeswoman said staff worked 39 days, on average, for the campaign and were given “several weeks of severance."
“Throughout our campaign, we were proud to pay our staff wages and benefits that were much more generous than any other campaign this year,” the statement reads. “And, while the campaign ended in early-March, we will continue to cover health care through November 2020 for former employees who haven’t secured other coverage."
A copy of an interview-notes template used by the campaign in hiring field organizers, and referenced in the complaint, described “full health, dental and vision benefits” and “employment through November 2020 with Team Bloomberg." It added that workers wouldn’t be guaranteed to stay in the state they were currently in.
Bloomberg, who joined the Democratic field in November, ultimately finished fourth in Massachusetts and far back elsewhere, and he failed to win any primary outside of American Samoa, despite having spent hundreds of millions of dollars of his own fortune. He ended his campaign the day after Super Tuesday and endorsed Joe Biden, the former vice president.
But according to the complaint, Bloomberg’s campaign had told staff he intended to create a political action committee to help defeat President Trump in competitive states.
The Massachusetts workers said they were told they could work for the PAC, and Poirier said he and others filled out a survey of which states they would like to work in.
But they say that disappeared, too, on March 20, when staffers were told they were being laid off and would receive their last paychecks on March 31.
The same day, Bloomberg announced he was transferring $18 million from his presidential campaign to the Democratic National Committee. A Bloomberg spokeswoman said he made the transfer in part to enable the DNC to hire hundreds of workers, and “many” former Bloomberg campaign workers have been brought aboard.
But some staff, including some of those now suing, received no response and were not hired by another campaign, according to the complaint.
“This was an unusual situation, where a billionaire candidate hired a vast army of campaign workers very quickly by making a promise that they can keep their jobs and their benefits through November, whoever the ultimate winning candidate was," said Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor attorney who is representing the plaintiffs and is a former Senate candidate herself.
“This is not something you see all the time in political work,” she said. “But you can’t make promises to people and just walk away from them.”
Liss-Riordan filed the complaint in state court, where Massachusetts wage law allows for treble damages, or triple what a plaintiff is owed in wages. The complaint alleges wage law violations, breach of contract, and promissory estoppel — that the former workers upturned their lives, including relocating or passing up other potential work opportunities, based on the promise of employment.
That included plaintiff Wendell McCoy, a Louisiana resident who relocated to Massachusetts to work as a field organizer in Fall River, according to the complaint.
Poirier said he has since struggled to find new clients for his tech consulting firm and has taken an online course on conducting contact tracing, the work being done in Massachusetts and elsewhere to track down people who have been in close contact with a person infected with COVID-19 and help them self-isolate.
The one client he had retained has since asked to put an “indefinite postponement” on his retainer.
“And that may never come back,” Poirier said, adding of Bloomberg: “I don’t know how to put in words how blindsided I feel — and how blind I must have been.”