In the Senate, Bernie Sanders is battling to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour (a decision that would almost certainly lead to the destruction of millions of low-skill, low-pay jobs, but we digress). But some of his own campaign workers say they're being forced to survive on less - some calculate their pay at $13 an hour for a 60-hour workweek - and now they're demanding more.
Sanders' unionized campaign organizers have leaked a story to the Washington Post where they complain about how their pay doesn't meet the standards that Sanders supposedly believes should be applied to all Americans.
The embarrassing story, Sanders' campaign field organizers, who occupy the lowest rung on the campaign staff ladder, complain that they're being forced to depend on payday loans to survive and that, in one state, four people have quit in the past month because of their financial struggles (though, if one is struggling financially, giving up one's only source of income would seem to make little sense).
One field organizer complained in the Sanders' campaign internal Slack that he needed more money "because I need to be able to feed myself."
Another utilized the rhetorical concept of irony by quoting a Sanders speech: "As you know, real change never takes place from the top on down, it always takes place from the bottom on up."
Furthermore, the demands for higher salaries come just months after the Sanders campaign workers union and the campaign leadership reached a collective bargaining agreement that was effective as of May 2.
The agreement established wage classifications for national and state staff, ranging from $15 an hour for interns and canvassers to $100,000 annual salaries for bargaining unit deputies.
Field organizers, who are on the front lines of the campaign’s crucial voter contact efforts, were to be paid not by hours worked but via an annual salary set at $36,000. Regional field directors were to be paid $48,000 annually, and statewide department directors were allocated $90,000 per year.
But shortly after the agreement was reached, the complaints started pouring in. Sanders' campaign manager Faiz Shakir swiftly called an all-staff meeting where he proposed a modified agreement with modestly higher pay. But in a vote, Shakir's deal was rejected.
The messages caught Shakir’s attention, and later that day he sent an email to the staff thanking them for their comments. "I do believe you are owed an explanation for the situation we find ourselves in," he wrote in an email obtained by The Post.
In his email, Shakir recapped his thinking from May 17 and expressed regret with the outcome.
"I have no idea what debates and conversations were had, but candidly, it was a disappointing vote from my perspective," he wrote of the union’s decision to reject his proposal. “But the campaign leadership respected the union process and the will of the membership.”
Shakir said that it would be damaging to the campaign’s budget to implement a pay hike after expanding field staff based on previously planned salary figures. In conclusion, he said, he would negotiate the matter only through the channels established by the union arrangement.
Now, the union is preparing to send Shakir and the rest of the campaign leadership a new (presumably budget busting) proposal.
Here are some of their demands:
- That field organizers receive a salary of $46,800, while regional field directors be paid $62,400.
- That the campaign cover 100% of the health-care costs for employees making $60,000 or less a year (currently, the campaign pays all premiums for salaried employees making $36,000 or less, while those making more are covered at a rate of 85%).
- That campaign staff be reimbursed for automobile transportation at $0.58 per mile while they're traveling around canvassing for Sanders.
In a draft letter to Sanders' campaign manager obtained by the Washington Post, the campaign workers said they "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 an hour, we believe it is only fair that the campaign would carry through this commitment to its own field team."
Their union issued a nebulous statement about the workers' demands on Thursday night.
In a statement issued earlier Thursday night, the union representing the campaign workers, United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400, said it could not comment "on specific, ongoing internal processes between our members and their employer."
"As union members, the Bernie 2020 campaign staff have access to myriad protections and benefits secured by their one-of-a-kind union contract, including many internal avenues to democratically address any number of ongoing workplace issues, including changes to pay, benefits, and other working conditions," the statement said.
"We 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."
While some of Sanders' campaign workers insist they won't be able to build a primary-winning machine without being paid "a living wage" the sad reality - for Bernie - is that raising the pay of the campaign's lowest-paid workers by 50% will force the campaign to shed personnel and ultimately have fewer people in the field out there canvassing.
We wonder: What kind of impact do they think that will have on Bernie's chances?