Democratic socialist presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been one of the most vocal advocates for a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage and universal healthcare, but, according to The Washington Post, after allowing his staffers to unionize, his priorities for the country are starting to “roil” his campaign.
Back in May, the Sanders campaign proudly announced that it was the first campaign to ratify a union contract with its employees, but according to documents reviewed by the Post, that union has some serious demands for the far-left politician, complaining that “the compensation and treatment they are receiving does not meet the standards Sanders espouses in his rhetoric.”
“Campaign field hires have demanded an annual salary they say would be equivalent to a $15-an-hour wage, which Sanders for years has said should be the federal minimum,” the Post reports. “The organizers and other employees supporting them have invoked the senator’s words and principles in making their case to campaign manager Faiz Shakir.”
The Post makes a point of stressing that Sanders has made “standing up for workers a central theme of his presidential campaigns,” including marching alongside disgruntled McDonald’s employees, demanding Walmart pay its workers more, and standing in solidarity with various employee strikes. And in May, the campaign had a big announcement: it had ratified a union agreement with campaign staffers.
“We are proud of our workers and proud to uphold Bernie’s commitment to collective bargaining rights and a strong labor movement,” campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in a statement reported by NPR at the time. “When Bernie Sanders is in the White House, he will make it easier not harder to join a union and we look forward to running a campaign powered by union workers.”
According to documents reviewed by the Post, Shakir was immediately engaged in some tense negotiations with that union. The Post reports that communications documents leaked by a staffer to the paper “show that the conflict dates back to at least May and remains unresolved.” Among the issues addressed are the “poverty wages” the campaign pays some of its workers:
A draft letter union members earlier had prepared to send Shakir as soon as this week said that the field organizers “cannot be expected to build the largest grassroots organizing program in American history while making poverty wages. Given our campaign’s commitment to fighting for a living wage of at least $15.00 an hour, we believe it is only fair that the campaign would carry through this commitment to its own field team.”
The draft letter estimated that field organizers were working 60 hours per week at minimum, dropping their average hourly pay to less than $13. It said that “many field staffers are barely managing to survive financially, which is severely impacting our team’s productivity and morale. Some field organizers have already left the campaign as a result.”
The draft asks for salaries of “$46,800 for field organizers and $62,400 for regional field directors” and for the campaign “to cover 100 percent of the health-care costs for employees making $60,000 per year or less,” the Post reports.
In response to its report, Shakir told the Post, “We know our campaign offers wages and benefits competitive with other campaigns, as is shown by the latest fundraising reports. Every member of the campaign, from the candidate on down, joined this movement in order to defeat Donald Trump and transform America. Bernie Sanders is the most pro-worker and pro-labor candidate running for president. We have tremendous staff who are working hard. Bernie and I both strongly believe in the sanctity of the collective bargaining process and we will not deviate from our commitment to it.”
The union, United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400, issued its own vague statement, citing their policy of not commenting specifically on “internal processes between our members and their employer” and stating they “look forward to continuing to work closely with our members and the management of the Bernie 2020 campaign to ensure all workers have dignity and respect in the workplace.” (Read the full report here.)