Sanders campaign reaches deal with union over worker wages

Sanders campaign reaches deal with union over worker wages
© Aaron Schwartz

Field staffers for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency 2020 candidates keep fitness on track while on the trail Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE's (I-Vt.) presidential campaign have reached a deal with its management over a pay dispute, the candidate and the union representing the campaign workers said on Tuesday.

That agreement would guarantee field organizers a base salary equivalent to at least a $15-an-hour wage, Sanders said, though he argued that the pay dispute could have been settled “months ago” had the union accepted a similar offer earlier.

“We made an offer which would have addressed that problem several months ago; it was rejected,” Sanders said in an interview on CNN. “We underwent negotiations. It has now, the offer, it has been accepted.”

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Jonathan Williams, a spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400, the union representing Sanders’s campaign workers, confirmed to The Hill on Tuesday that an agreement had been reached.

“Both the campaign staff and management have engaged in this process in good faith and to achieve a mutually agreed upon outcome,” UFCW Local 400 said in a statement. “This is what democracy in the workplace looks like.”

Sanders’s campaign announced earlier this year that all of its staffers below the rank of deputy director would be represented by a union, making it the first presidential campaign in U.S. history to have a unionized workforce. The union and the Sanders campaign reached a collective bargaining agreement in May.

But an internal dispute burst into public view last week after The Washington Post reported that campaign field organizers had been fighting with its management over wages that they argued did not rise to the wage standards espoused by Sanders, who has for years called for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Field organizers are among the lowest-ranking workers in campaign politics but play a crucial role in boosting candidates’ on-the-ground presence and support base, a task that often requires long hours. 

A draft letter prepared by union members and obtained by the Post estimated that field organizers were working at least 60-hour weeks, causing their hourly pay to drop to less than $13 an hour. 

Sanders’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said prior to the pay agreement that he would limit field organizers to 40 hours a week while negotiations were underway.

Shakir praised the agreement between the union and management on Tuesday.

“We have and will always be committed to the fight for fair pay, decent work conditions, and a strong labor movement — for our own workers and those all across this country,” Shakir said. 

“We’re proud to have successfully negotiated with the union in good faith to raise the pay of field organizers, while continuing to ensure our campaign staffers are being paid a living wage.”

Neither campaign management nor UFCW Local 400 disclosed the exact terms of the agreement on Tuesday, but Sanders said that he believes it offers workers a pay boost that would amount to “more than $15 an hour” and “probably the best health care plan that you can imagine.”

In an interview with the Des Moines Register last week, after the wage dispute became public, Sanders defended his campaign’s salary packages. He also complained that some employees had gone to the news media to air their grievances with management.

“It does bother me that people are going outside of the process and going to the media," Sanderse said. "That is really not acceptable. It is really not what labor negotiations are about, and it's improper.”