'Fear and chaos': Andrew Yang staffers are furious over sudden layoffs and a campaign near collapse

  • Yang's staff said they were blindsided by the layoffs. Many found out something was amiss when they suddenly lost their email accounts or heard about it from the rumor mill.
  • Some staff said the layoffs were disproportionately affecting union members, and that many had yet to receive their severance payment of about $400.
  • "He talks about giving every American $1,000 a month but can't give his own campaign staffers severance. It's infuriating," one source said. 
  • A spokesperson for the campaign said all employees who were laid off received a formal termination notice and would receive their severance pay in 48 hours. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Andrew Yang built his long-shot candidacy into a grassroots movement by advocating for a humane capitalism that leaves no worker behind. But his employees say that behind the scenes that's exactly what his campaign just did.

His campaign began layoffs in the wake of his disastrous showing at the Iowa caucus, moves that the campaign characterized to Insider at the time as planned. But Yang's staff said they were blindsided by the sudden staff cuts.

Many found out that something was amiss when they suddenly lost their email accounts and Slack messaging system. Others learned they'd lost their job via the rumor mill, only to receive formal letters much later.

"For a Democrat who is 'all about the worker,' he's just talking the talk, no walking here," one staffer said. "'Humanity first' but [there's] no transparency or honesty with the lay off, period. They gave zero warning and just starting deactivating people's emails and Slack accounts. There is now a culture of fear across the entire campaign because of those layoffs."

The layoffs left the campaign staff feeling angry and confused, and many said the campaign squandered its historic momentum by creating a disorganized and unfair culture.

Four current and former Yang campaign staffers at varying levels of seniority told Insider that the layoffs are just the tip of the iceberg of a campaign culture characterized by disorganization and a "lack of transparency." All of them spoke to Insider on the condition of anonymity due to being bound by non-disclosure agreements in some cases, and fearing retribution from the campaign.

After a meteoric rise for an unknown candidate, Yang was brought back down to earth by Iowa, where he received fewer than 1,800 votes in the caucuses, earning just 1% of the statewide vote, 1% of state delegate equivalents, and zero pledged delegates that count towards the convention. 

All sources confirmed earlier reporting from Politico that a series of missteps and miscommunications between the national and state-level campaign operations had resulted in some Yang staffers finding out they had been laid off through word of mouth or by having their accounts suddenly deactivated and only receiving formal termination letters after the fact. 

Staffers told Insider that as many as 100 campaign employees lost their jobs, but the campaign declined to confirm how many were laid off, saying only that the specific number told to Insider "was inaccurate."

In a Monday statement to Insider, Yang campaign chief Nick Ryan said: "Andrew and the campaign are tremendously grateful for the efforts of all of our staff. The success of this movement would not have been possible if not for this dedicated and talented group. The decisions we made last week were not easy nor taken lightly."

Three sources said that in one state, the campaign either laid off or re-deployed all of the office's representatives of the Campaign Worker's Guild, the union representing Yang organizers, in what they characterized as retaliatory layoffs. 

One staffer described the campaign's attitude towards the union as "completely disrespectful," saying the campaign declined to negotiate on some points, including severance, and appeared to be "kicking the can down the road" to avoid negotiating before the campaign's end. 

Yang's national press secretary SY Lee told Insider that the union had rebuffed the campaign's efforts to negotiate.

"We had been working with the CWG for weeks to come to a resolution as quickly as possible," Lee said. "Our legal team received a memorandum of understanding over the weekend before the Iowa caucuses from some members of the CWG and was not provided sufficient time to review it. However, despite our repeated attempts to negotiate with these select individuals, we were rebuffed with no reason given."

Lee said that all employees who were laid off received a formal termination notice and would receive their severance pay within 48 hours of the press secretary's email to Insider on Monday afternoon. 

Two sources told Insider that in addition to the layoffs affecting union representatives, staffers with friends in campaign headquarters or on the national staff team were more likely to keep their jobs than others. 

Brad Bauman, a senior advisor for communications, told Insider that "we feel genuinely terrible for the folks who were laid off after Iowa, but in no way were those layoffs any different from any other presidential campaign that had to face tough choices in the aftermath of a difficult contest."

Four staffers told Insider that the campaign hasn't yet paid any severance, telling the laid-off former staff that they'll receive severance once they return equipment or promising in vague terms that they will receive $400-500 in the near future.

A senior Yang campaign official told Insider that the days-long delays in paying severance were not deliberate, but simply a function of the payroll software the campaign uses.

"At every point, the campaign was honest about next steps following Iowa and folks in every department knew that the campaign's circumstances could change dramatically after the caucus," Bauman said. "We have made every attempt to give staff who were let go a soft landing including severance."

Still, staffers were angry about the inconsistencies and delays in the allocation of severance. 

"[Yang] talks about giving every American $1,000 a month but can't give his own campaign staffers severance. It's infuriating," one source said. 

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang speaks during a campaign event in Plymouth, New HampshireYang
Brendan McDermid/Reuters

The campaign doesn't expect to survive New Hampshire, sources say

The Yang campaign was uniquely disadvantaged by the caucus model used in Iowa, in which candidates must receive 15% in a precinct to be viable, and caucusgoers whose candidates are not viable after the first caucus alignment can change their support to another candidate. 

Yang's poor performance was nevertheless a humbling reality check for a historic presidential campaign that inspired a fiercely loyal army of grassroots supporters with his flagship universal basic income policy proposal, and an unconventional platform of transcending partisan divides to re-think the nature of American capitalism itself.

After its abysmal showing in Iowa, the Yang campaign sent out a fundraising email implying that Yang would have no choice but to drop out if he doesn't place in the top four candidates in this week's primary. 

"If we miss this fundraising goal and our target finish in New Hampshire, I don't believe we can continue contending at the same level."

In a recording of a campaign-wide staff call on Friday obtained by Insider and originally reported by Rolling Stone, a defeated-sounding Yang acknowledged the toll of the layoffs, and the uphill battle the campaign is facing ahead of New Hampshire. 

"I know now is a trying time for the campaign and for you individually seeing the people you've worked with over the last number of months stepping away from the campaigns," he said. 

"The caucus format was singularly opposed to the dynamic that our campaign tends to attract," Yang said of Iowa, adding, "New Hampshire is, in some ways, the most Yang Gang environment you could imagine."  

But on the day of the New Hampshire primary, Yang is in sixth place polling at 3.7% in Real Clear Politics' average of Democratic primary polls, with a low chance of receiving any pledged delegates.

Two Yang campaign staffers told Insider that they see virtually no chance of Yang placing in the top four candidates in New Hampshire, with one describing the recent layoffs and the fundraising email as national leadership "bracing staff for an eventual reason to drop out."

"The support is not there, the staff is not there, and morale is extremely low," the source told Insider.

Another staffer described "total fear and chaos" inside the campaign after the layoffs, saying that instead of leaving staff wondering how much longer they'll have a job, the candidate "should have dropped out after Iowa."

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang's campaign laid off staff on Wednesday.
Brendan McDermid/Reuters

'This is the most poorly organized campaign I've ever worked on'

Staffers said that even before the round of layoffs, they noticed delays on time-sensitive get-out-the-vote operations, lack of coordination between the national and state-level campaign offices, and substandard working conditions for organizers in some field offices that they chalked up to a mix of incompetence and disregard for staff.

"The communication between offices wasn't fast enough and we weren't given a ton of autonomy over our state," one former staffer, who said their experience on the campaign was mostly positive, told Insider. "Headquarters wanted to control everything, and there was a lot of mistrust even in the people who they hired. It made me think, why did you hire me if you don't trust me?" 

The person also said that the campaign put "all their eggs in one basket" in the hopes of a last-minute surge to secure a win in Iowa, leaving operations in later primary states to be "an afterthought" and not communicating sufficiently about the next steps in those states.  

Another Yang field organizer echoed those concerns, telling Insider they were dismayed both by the relatively poor working conditions for organizers, and the national campaign not being adequately attentive to the needs of state-level organizers and field staff, like responding to requests for more supplies or materials.

"The campaign has historic possibility within our state but the national office hasn't been at all responsive to us," one state-level organizer said.

One veteran campaign staffer and organizer recounted a lack of internal collaboration on the campaign between state-level officials, "radio silence" from national headquarters ahead of key election deadlines, and in some cases, senior officials barring state-level staff from being able to do their jobs. 

"This is the most poorly organized campaign I've ever worked on," the person said. 

Lee refuted the sources' characterizations of the relationship between the national and state-level offices, arguing that the headquarters "made sure that state teams were provided ample resources and support, and as we got closer to caucus day, we deployed members of HQ and senior staff to the states to ensure seamless coordination." 

A staff member removes signs following an event for Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang in Plymouth, New Hampshire, U.S., February 6, 2020.
Brendan McDermid/Reuters

'Humanity first'

A staffer attributed what they saw as a disorganized national strategy and poor treatment of staff to the fact many of the senior-level campaign officials had never worked on campaigns or even in politics before, and "don't understand the progressive work culture" Democratic campaigns usually strive to meet.  

"There were inexperienced people in high-level positions that were not right for them," another former Yang staffer said. "From day one, Yang should have hired campaign veterans to avoid this domino effect of ineffectiveness."

In an email to Insider, Lee hinted at the challenge that comes with running a long-shot presidential campaign for a non-politician from scratch, saying that Yang's team started with a small team of a few people and grew into a "top contender, alongside senators, governors, and other longtime politicians with established networks."

Lee maintained that the campaign was as "transparent and forthcoming as possible" with staff.

Three staffers also said Yang campaign organizers received the lowest pay of any presidential campaign and had the least comprehensive benefits, with organizers in some offices required to work seven days a week, ten hours a day for relatively low wages. 

"The way they treated their organizers does not reflect 'humanity first'," the person added, referencing Yang's signature campaign slogan. (Lee told Insider they could not speak to how Yang staffers were paid compared to those of other campaigns). 

Some staffers said they were particularly angry and heartbroken over what they saw as a massive disconnect between the campaign's message of empowering forgotten working people compared to how they treated those workers in practice. 

"Our grassroots are living by the 'humanity first' mindset, they see the candidate as a change-maker in political discourse who activated previously disillusioned folks to believe in something, and then the campaign turns around and treats their staff like this," one staffer said. "It's heartbreaking." 

"Don't pretend to be the 21st century's economic hero saying you're the candidate of working people, then screw the people who are helping you do that," the person added. "The campaign is built on the backs of people who are doing that work."

Are you a current or former Andrew Yang campaign staffer with a story to share about your experience? Contact this reporter securely at gpanetta@protonmail.com or using Signal or WhatsApp at 978-998-5235. 

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