Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Friday defended how his campaign pays its staff, while saying it was “improper” for workers who have griped about their wages to share their concerns with the media.
On Thursday, The Washington Post quoted a letter from the union members who work for Sanders to campaign manager Faiz Shakir complaining about their pay.
The letter said field staffers in Iowa “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 letter published by The Post said “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.”
Sanders defended his treatment of his staff on Friday during an interview with the Des Moines Register.
“I’m very proud to be the first presidential candidate to recognize a union and negotiate a union contract,” Sanders said.
“And that contract was ratified by the employees of the campaign, and it not only provides pay of at least $15 an hour, it also provides, I think, the best health care benefits that any employer can provide for our field organizers,” he added.
Some voices on Twitter snickered at the spectacle of Sanders being accused of paying his workers too little.
Bernie Sanders staffers are demanding the socialist candidate pay them a $15 an hour minimum wage
Bernie wants to force every American company to pay their employees that much—why wouldn’t he do the same?
It’s not surprising though, coming from a socialist who owns 3 homes
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) July 19, 2019
— Douglas Karr (@douglaskarr) July 19, 2019
Sanders said his field organizers make $36,000 a year with full employer-paid health care, as well as paid vacation and sick leave. The pay rate would amount to about $17 an hour for a 40-hour week, but few presidential campaign staffers work 40 hours.
Sanders indicated the campaign would adjust pay in light of the concerns, but he did have a bone to pick with the staffers working for him
“It does bother me that people are going outside of the process and going to the media,” he said. “That is really not acceptable. It is really not what labor negotiations are about, and it’s improper.”
“We are disappointed that some individuals have decided to damage the integrity of these efforts. We are involved in negotiations. And some are individuals that have decided to damage the integrity of that process before they were concluded,” he said.
The Sanders campaign has 48 employees in Iowa, according to the Register.
“We know our campaign offers wages and benefits competitive with other campaigns, as is shown by the latest fundraising reports,” Shakir said Thursday in a statement, noting that there were larger issues at stake.
“Every member of the campaign, from the candidate on down, joined this movement in order to defeat Donald Trump and transform America,” he added.
“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.”
United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents the campaign workers, told The Post it would not comment “on specific, ongoing internal processes between our members and their employer.”
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