Are Mass Resignations at Mi Familia Vota Part of Industry-Wide Crisis in Latino Political Organizations?

Dec 15, 2021
10:40 AM

(AP Photo/Matt York)

UPDATE: Local media and sources close to the situation report that at least nine workers resigned at Mi Familia Vota’s office in Las Vegas last week. Mi Familia has since released a statement in response to Latino Rebels report on Wednesday morning.

LAS VEGAS — Last week, the Las Vegas office of Mi Familia Vota, a national organization focused primarily on Latino voter outreach, saw almost all of its staff members resign citing a “hostile, toxic, and degrading work environment,” according to a letter from canvassers on Thursday.

A source with direct knowledge who spoke to the Las Vegas Review-Journal said that last Wednesday interim state director Jeamy Ramirez tore into two undocumented workers who had just quit, threatening to call police on one of them if she didn’t leave.

“Yesterday [Last Wednesday], we witnessed our supervisor being yelled at for about two hours and then being threatened to have the cops called on her after she was let go,” the December 9 resignation letter stated. “Mi Familia Vota is an organization that is intended to protect our immigrant community and serve it.

“With yesterday’s [last Wednesday’s] actions, national leadership went directly against our mission and values and put the lives and freedom of undocumented immigrants at risk by threatening to bring in a law enforcement agency that is known for detaining undocumented immigrants and transferring them to ICE.”

Launched in 2000, Mi Familia Vota —which has offices in California, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and Florida— has been a major exponent of civic engagement among Latinos. The group registers voters, teaches them how to vote, and shares information on candidates and the issues at stake in a given election. In Nevada, the group provided COVID information in Spanish and worked with state officials to distribute vaccines in Latino communities.

A request for comment from Latino Rebels on Sunday went unanswered —Ramirez hung up on a Review-Journal reporter last week, too— but in a statement released on Friday, the group’s national office says that “at no time did Mi Familia Vota threaten to, or call, law enforcement,” and that Ramirez had merely threatened to called security on an employee who had “become unruly and exhibited threatening behavior.”

The Review-Journal points out that Las Vegas Metro Police has “an informal agreement” with ICE to turn over undocumented immigrants arrested for non-violent offenses.

The national office also stated that management is “constantly seeking to improve its benefits and compensation packages, as well as to provide ongoing professional development,” and that “the resignations began after an ‘investigation into some of the practices by the former managers’ and that they could not comment further because the probe is ongoing,” Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez reported at the Nevada Independent.

“We are sad to see an organization to which we have dedicated our time to behave this way,” the Thursday staff letter noted. “It is clear things will not change so we are writing this letter to simply ask Mi Familia Vota to have the human decency to pay us until the end of the month, which is December 31st.”

One former staff member tells the Independent that working at Mi Familia Vota’s Vegas office has been “strenuous and difficult” due to a lack of communication and leadership.

“The staff member said they had not been contacted even once by a supervisor to check in about COVID-19 vaccine outreach work and whether they needed help,” Rodriguez wrote.

“Given the events that occurred [on Wednesday], it has been made [to] feel as though we, as a staff, are entirely expendable and not valued despite the undeniable positive impact we have had in the community,” another staff member wrote in his resignation letter shared with the Independent. “This is not a healthy work environment, thus I have decided to resign.”

Yet another staff member tells the Independent that “she was told she didn’t understand politics,” and when she complained to the national office about working long hours with little time off, she was told that “it was a time management issue.”

“I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she says.

‘It’s a Bigger Thing’

Looking for more information on the resignations and the conditions within Mi Familia Vota’s national organization, Latino Rebels spoke to three sources with years of experience in the “non-profit-industrial complex,” as one put it—all of whom asked that they remain anonymous. All three said they weren’t surprised by the resignations —“not even a little bit,” says another one— and that they expect similar incidents occurring at other Latino organizations

In addition, they also noted that despite any damage it may do to Latino communities in the short term, they were glad that such issues were finally coming to light and being addressed.

“There are several themes that I’ve seen really across the industry: people are overworked, they’re underpaid, they’re overlooked, and they’re underrepresented,” said one longtime organizer and political consultant from Chicago, adding that the problems aren’t unique to Latino organizations but plague most non-profits as well as for-profit corporations and companies.

“There’s a lot of people out there who really want to do good work, but they think that just because they’re hiring canvassers at 15 dollars an hour, or 17 dollars an hour, they can just treat them the way they want,” a political operative in Florida said. “Because they know that their options —and this is horrible, but it’s the truth— they know the options are for people to work at Walmart or Amazon.”

The operative echoed the consultant from Chicago, calling mistreatment of staff “an industry MO.”

“It happens with Black people, it happens with Asian American people, and with poor white people. They hire them and they let them go, and sometimes they don’t pay hours,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t care that people have to drive two hours to work at a place, and they don’t give them gas cards. And then on top of all that, because they know that anyone will jump in to get a 15-dollar-an-hour job, they know they can treat people like shit. And it’s like demeaning, shouting at them in public.”

All three sources described most Latino non-profit political organizations as being run by older men who “haven’t read all the memos on how you talk to women,” as the third source, a consultant with years of experience working with such organizations, phrased it.

“If it was just mansplaining, it would be one thing,” she explained. “But they’re putting people in positions in which they will not be successful because they are not giving them enough resources. So it becomes toxic to the point where they are putting women in positions where they will fail.”

One source alleged that a similar instance occurred at Mi Familia Vota’s office in Florida.

“In 2019,” the source explained, “in Florida, the leadership of Mi Familia Vota said, ‘Peace, we out, we are gonna form a new organization called Poder Latinx.’ So this was the entire leadership. Mi Familia Vota still needed to run in Florida, so they elevated somebody who did not have the experience to be state director, and then left her in the deep end by herself.”

The operative explained he knows three Latina organizers working in different parts of the country, “and the three of them are like, ‘Our Latino organizations are being led by people that are in their 50s, that are older and that are mostly men, and that are machistas. And that most of them grew up working for labor unions, working for white people that mistreated them, and they think that that’s how you lead.

“But then the other thing that really fucking bothers me and grinds my gears —and I’ve seen it in so many places— is that a lot of these organizations are saying, ‘Women’s rights. Las latinas son abusadas. Latino men have no labor rights. They have no healthcare. We need to fight for that—that’s why we need to turn out and vote. That’s why we need to participate and be civically engaged.’ And then they offer zero fucking benefits. … Or they do the thing where they say, ‘Oh, you’re a temporary employee, so we don’t have to offer any, and we really only have six staffers.”

“There’s a gender pay gap even within our own industry,” the Chicago consultant said

“This work requires a lot of time,” she added. “Campaigns can be months and months, with little time off, and people are feeling really burned out. I think even after the election in 2020, you know, people put everything in to try to get Trump out, basically. And I feel like people really burned out, and they wanna be respected when they come to work.”


Hector Luis Alamo is the Senior Editor at Latino Rebels and hosts the Latin[ish] podcast. Twitter: @HectorLuisAlamo