[Marxism] Labor fight roils Bernie Sanders campaign, as workers demand the $15 hourly pay the candidate has proposed for employees nationwide - The Washington Post
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Labor fight roils Bernie Sanders campaign, as workers demand the $15
hourly pay the candidate has proposed for employees nationwide
By Sean Sullivan July 18 at 8:33 PM
Unionized campaign organizers working for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s
presidential effort are battling with its management, arguing that the
compensation and treatment they are receiving does not meet the
standards Sanders espouses in his rhetoric, according to internal
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 organizers and other employees
supporting them have invoked the senator’s words and principles in
making their case to campaign manager Faiz Shakir, the documents
reviewed by The Washington Post show.
Sanders has made standing up for workers a central theme of his
presidential campaigns — this year marching with McDonald’s employees
seeking higher wages, pressing Walmart shareholders to pay workers more
and showing solidarity with university personnel on strike. The
independent from Vermont has proudly touted his campaign as the first
presidential effort to unionize its employees, and his defense of the
working class has been a signature element of his brand of democratic
socialism and a rallying cry for the populist movement he claims to lead.
Details about the negotiations between Shakir and the union representing
Sanders’s campaign workers have not been publicly reported until now. A
review of emails, instant messages and other documents obtained by The
Post show that the conflict dates back to at least May and remains
unresolved. The documents were provided to The Post on the condition of
anonymity because of the sensitivity of the private talks.
The Sanders campaign late Thursday issued a statement lauding its union
contract. “We know our campaign offers wages and benefits competitive
with other campaigns, as is shown by the latest fundraising reports,”
Shakir said. “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.”
It was unclear when or whether Sanders had been made aware of the situation.
Sanders criticizes Walmart's ‘starvation wages’ at shareholder meeting
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called on Walmart to increase wages at the
company’s annual shareholder meeting on June 5. (Reuters)
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.”
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.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is seeking the Democratic presidential
nomination, delivers a speech on his Medicare-for-all proposal Wednesday
at George Washington University in the District. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Field organizers are the lowest caste in politics apart from unpaid
volunteers — often people in their 20s who uproot themselves and move to
far-flung parts of the country to work long hours and gain campaign
experience in high-stress environments.
By encouraging these workers to unionize, Sanders and his campaign
opened a path to negotiate for more than the low wages that typically
have prevailed in past campaigns. They are seizing the opportunity.
The Sanders campaign made history in March when it announced that all
employees below the rank of deputy director would be represented by a union.
“We’re honored that his campaign will be the first to have a unionized
workforce,” Shakir said in a statement at the time. Other campaigns have
followed suit, with workers unionizing in at least two other active
campaigns: those of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and former housing
secretary Julián Castro.
The union and the Sanders campaign reached a collective bargaining
agreement that went into effect on May 2 and expires on March 31, 2021.
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.
It was not completely clear why the wage dispute began so swiftly after
the campaign and the union reached the initial agreement, though at that
point the campaign had yet to assemble its sprawling roster of field
organizers. But on May 17, Shakir convened an all-staff meeting, during
which he recommended raising the pay for field organizers to $42,000 and
changing the workweek specifications, according to an email he later
wrote to staff. The union draft indicated he was seeking to extend the
workweek to six days.
Shakir pressed for a swift vote so he could make budget decisions and
decide how many field organizers to hire, according to his email.
The union rejected his offer, because the raise would have elevated
field staff to a pay level responsible for paying more of their own
health-care costs, according to the draft proposal the union was
preparing this week.
The campaign workers decided to press harder. On July 11, dozens logged
into Slack, the popular instant-messaging service used by the campaign’s
employees, and began bombarding Shakir with appeals to raise pay for
“Hi @Faiz,” the messages began. They poured in from across the country.
“I am struggling financially to do my job, and in my state, we’ve
already had 4 people quit in the past 4 weeks because of financial
struggles,” wrote one field organizer. Another employee said his
co-workers “shouldn’t have to get payday loans to sustain themselves.”
A third said he supported the demands for higher wages “because I need
to be able to feed myself.” A fourth quoted a line Sanders often uses in
speeches, writing, “As you know, real change never takes place from the
top on down, it always takes place from the bottom on up.”
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.
This week, the union, in conjunction with the Sanders campaign staffers
it represents, has been preparing to send Shakir a new proposal.
According to a draft of the proposal obtained by The Post, they are
asking for $46,800 for field organizers and $62,400 for regional field
The draft also asked the campaign to cover 100 percent of the
health-care costs for employees making $60,000 per year or less. Under
the current agreement, the campaign pays all premiums for salaried
employees making $36,000 or less per year. Those making more are covered
at a rate of 85 percent.
It also requested that the campaign reimburse field staff for automobile
transportation at $0.58 per mile.
“We expect negotiations and concessions to be given to this committee by
July 31st at the latest, given the urgent nature of raising pay for
Field staff and the unsustainability of the current situation,” the
Sanders, meanwhile, has continued his push for a $15-an-hour wage across
the country, hailing the bill recently passed by the House to set that
as the federal minimum. In an online video, his campaign featured an
Iowa woman who has fought cancer and says she is struggling on $8.25 an
hour from her job at McDonald’s.
“Today, we say as loudly and clearly as we can to McDonald’s: Pay your
workers a living wage and negotiate with a union!” Sanders says as the
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