[Marxism] Labor fight roils Bernie Sanders campaign, as workers demand the $15 hourly pay the candidate has proposed for employees nationwide - The Washington Post

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 19 11:13:08 MDT 2019

On 7/19/19 10:44 AM, Louis Proyect via Marxism wrote:
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> https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/labor-fight-roils-bernie-sanders-campaign-as-workers-demand-the-15-hourly-pay-the-candidate-has-proposed-for-employees-nationwide/2019/07/18/3a6df9f4-a966-11e9-9214-246e594de5d5_story.html 

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 
field organizers.

“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 
draft said.

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 
video concludes.

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