Labor charge alleges Sanders campaign management retaliated against union activities

Labor charge alleges Sanders campaign management retaliated against union activities
© Greg Nash

An anonymous unfair labor practice charge against Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren to protest with striking Chicago teachers Sanders: 'Outrageous' to suggest Gabbard 'is a foreign asset' Democratic strategist: Sanders seeking distance from Warren could 'backfire' MORE’s (I-Vt.) 2020 presidential campaign alleges that at least three staffers were fired from the team for their involvement in organizing and labor activities, according to a redacted copy of the charge obtained by Bloomberg Law.

The charge, which was filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by a former campaign employee on July 22, also alleges that the campaign violated a collective bargaining agreement with unionized workers by making staffers work additional days and failing to provide commensurate days off. 

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When the individual asked the campaign to abide by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, management retaliated, the charge alleges.

“[Campaign management] retaliated against me when I organized the bargaining unit and sent an email requesting compliance with the [collective bargaining agreement],” the person wrote in the charge.

The identity of the individual who filed the charge has not been made public, but the charge lists Sanders’s campaign office in Des Moines, Iowa, as the employer’s address. The NLRB’s Indianapolis office is investigating the allegations.

Sanders’s campaign declined to comment on the specifics of the charge, but said that its leadership, “from Sen. Sanders on down, respects the rights of all of its employees to speak collectively and bargain about their terms and conditions of employment, and it supports the mission of the NLRB to enforce worker and union rights.” 

“That is exactly why the Bernie 2020 campaign voluntarily recognized the employees’ chosen union and engaged in good faith bargaining that resulted in an historic collective bargaining agreement,” the campaign said in a statement.

“We are committed to cooperating with the NLRB and we are confident that they will find the campaign honors all of its employees’ rights to both the letter and spirit of the law. Sen. Sanders and the campaign believe all workers should have a strong voice on the job and the right to due process, including the right to petition to the NLRB.” 

Sanders has long allied himself with organized labor, and has been among the most vocal advocates in Congress for a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage. His presidential campaign made history in March when it announced that all employees below the level of deputy director would be represented by a union.

Since then, workers on a handful of rival presidential campaigns have opted to unionize as well, including staffers working for Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren to protest with striking Chicago teachers Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Four companies reach 0M settlement in opioid lawsuit | Deal opens door to larger settlements | House panel to consider vaping tax | Drug pricing markup tomorrow On The Money: Trump dismisses 'phony Emoluments Clause' after Doral criticism | Senate Dems signal support for domestic spending package | House panel to consider vaping tax MORE (D-Mass.) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

The NLRB filing came as unionized field organizers for Sanders’s presidential effort and campaign management sought to resolve a weeks-long dispute over pay. Organizers argued that long work hours had driven their wages below an average of $15 an hour and failed to meet the pay standards espoused by Sanders himself.

That dispute was settled on Tuesday after the organizers struck a deal with management to boost their salaries and reduce the hours of some staffers.

The unfair labor practice charge filed this week, however, goes far beyond the pay dispute. 

It alleges that some employees were not notified that a collective bargaining agreement was in place when they were hired, and were told that their employment was “at will,” meaning they could be fired at any point in time so long as the reason for their termination is not illegal. 

The Sanders campaign’s collective bargaining agreement stipulates that new hires will be considered “at will” employees for a short period before gaining union protections.

The charge also claims that campaign management “promised some employees housing, and not others; some were promised expenses, and others were not.” The Sanders campaign’s collective bargaining agreement does not guarantee housing for employees.

A spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents Sanders campaign staffers, said that the union was looking into the unfair labor practice charge, but declined to comment on the allegations.

If the NLRB office investigating the charge determines that there may have been a violation of the National Labor Relations Act, it will issue a complaint. If the parties involved are unable to resolve the issue, the case will go before an NLRB administrative law judge.