Bernie Sanders Says Campaign Will Limit Hours Staffers Work After Complaints About ‘Poverty Wages’

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.
July 20, 2019 Updated: July 20, 2019

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that his presidential campaign will cut some of the hours that some staffers work after complaints that they were not getting $15 an hour.

Internal communication documents obtained by the Washington Post showed that campaign field hires want an annual salary which would be equivalent to a $15 an hour wage but campaign managers have so far declined to give it to them.

According to one letter, field staff—the lowest level of staff on the campaign—are making less than $13 an hour.

A union representing the staffers got them $36,000 a year in an agreement signed in March, but staffers said the long hours they work have driven their wages down to an unacceptable level.

Field organizers “cannot be expected to build the largest grassroots organizing program in American history while making poverty wages,” the letter stated, noting that Sanders is advocating for a $15 an hour national minimum wage.

Sanders expressed frustration with the story, saying it bothered him that staffers seemed to go to the media even as negotiations between his management staff and the union took place.

“It does bother me that people are going outside of the process and going to the media,” he told the Des Moines Register. “That is really not acceptable. It is really not what labor negotiations are about, and it’s improper.”

He said the contract agreed upon in March provides the $15 an hour wage along with strong health care benefits, paid vacation, and sick leave.

The issue, Sanders said, is that field staff have been working long hours.

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Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) looks on during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate in Miami, Florida, on June 27, 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The campaign will limit the number of hours the staffers work to a maximum of 43 each, he added.

Campaign manager Faiz Shakir told the Post in a statement: “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 … 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 battle between Sanders and his staff emerged into the public as the House of Representatives passed a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Sanders this week celebrated the passage of the bill, writing on Twitter: “When we #FightFor15, we win. Congratulations to the House on this historic moment and to all the organizers and working people who made this happen.”

He called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring the bill to a vote on the Senate floor, claiming that it was what “the American people want.”

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The Congressional Budget Office estimated that up to 3.7 million jobs would be destroyed by raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. (Congressional Budget Office)

In another missive, he wrote, “There’s nothing ‘extreme’ about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. What’s extreme is paying workers starvation wages while CEO pay and corporate profits skyrocket.”

Raising the minimum wage would destroy up to 3.7 million jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“In an average week in 2025, the $15 option would boost the wages of 17 million workers who would otherwise earn less than $15 per hour,” the office said in the report (pdf), which was published on July 8.

“Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour might see their wages rise as well,” according to the congressional researchers.

But those improvements would come at a cost, as “1.3 million other workers would become jobless,” according to the report, noting the total lost jobs could reach as high as “3.7 million workers.”

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.