In its brief, giddy existence, the anonymous Instagram account “DearCaStaffers” attracted thousands of followers and shared scores of secrets about lawmakers and their staff, before suddenly going dark.
Beginning last week, each day brought hundreds of new followers, many of whom wrote anonymous posts about bad bosses and abusive work environments. The account garnered tales of drunken lawmakers and belligerent supervisors, long hours and involuntary campaign work.
“While the stories were difficult to verify and there was a risk of disgruntled hyperbole, I think Capitol staffers need a medium for a collective voice.” — Capitol staffer
Sprinkled among the lurid tales and vitriol were calls for union representation, a right afforded to all other state workers but denied to those in the Legislative branch. Nearly 600 people piled on as followers during the weekend. The last observed total was more than 3,300.
Then, nothing. No announcement or statement. The account simply disappeared on Monday, ghosting its growing base of followers. (To hear a discussion of DearCaStaffers on the Capitol Weekly podcast, click here.)
“‘Disappointing’ doesn’t quite capture it,” said one staff member who posted details of abuse in a state senator’s office. “While the stories were difficult to verify and there was a risk of disgruntled hyperbole, I think Capitol staffers need a medium for a collective voice.
“Maybe Instagram isn’t the best fit, but at least it was starting a dialogue,” the staffer said. “It’s a bummer that it’s gone now.”
Deleting the account, especially so suddenly and without explanation, prompted a new round of speculation.
Did the operators realize they were playing with fire and putting careers on the line? Did legislative operatives discover the source and reach out menacingly? Was it a campaign stunt by someone seeking dirt on their enemies? It’s a fine parlor game, but the answers will likely remain hidden unless the secretive operator chooses to unmask themselves.
During its short-lived heyday, DearCaStaffers actively encouraged legislative employees to spill the beans on specific bosses. And plenty of them complied, delivering loads of dirty laundry on lawmakers and their top staff, the value of which is uncertain.
“There does seem to be a real frustration that the Legislature still hasn’t taken (staff complaints) seriously.” — Steve Maviglio
“The trouble with anonymous posting is you don’t know how legitimate it is,” said Democratic political strategist Steve Maviglio, himself a former building staffer. “You have to take it with a grain of salt.”
“Some of those concerns are probably real, but some are probably sensationalized. It’s hard to tell the difference,” he said. “It could be a campaign consultant looking to stir the pot. You just don’t know.”
One thing that does seem clear, based on the quick following and eager participation: California’s legislative staff, at least some of them, feel unfairly treated and inadequately protected.
“There does seem to be a real frustration that the Legislature still hasn’t taken (staff complaints) seriously,” Maviglio said.
The idea of giving collective bargaining rights to legislative staff has gradually gained steam in recent years, though bills that aim to do so continue to stall
The account was one of many nationwide based on “dear_white_staffers,” an account with more than 80,000 followers, operated by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) congressional employees seeking an equitable workplace and union representation.
Although DearCaStaffers is down, a rash of copycat dear-staffer accounts were still up and running Monday. “Dear_campaign_staffers,” still had more than 1,000 followers eager to “bring transparency and accountability to campaign culture.”
Hundreds of staffers in Tennessee, Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Wisconsin, likewise, had taken their cue from dear_white_staffers.
The idea of giving collective bargaining rights to legislative staff has gradually gained steam in recent years, though bills that aim to do so continue to stall.
Last year, the effort reached a high-water mark when a collective bargaining bill by then-Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez garnered 38 Assembly co-authors. But even with the committed support of nearly half the lower house, the bill was held in committee. A new author with another bill had yet to step forward.
And with their anonymous online platform now gone in the ether, staff will have to share their complaints the old-fashioned way: privately.