Bernie Sanders Staff Can’t Get the $15 Minimum Wage He’s Advocating for Nationally: Report

By Zachary Stieber

Campaign staff for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that they’ve been unable to secure a $15 an hour wage despite the 2020 presidential candidate advocating for a wage at that level on a national scale.

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.

A draft union letter slated to be sent to campaign manager Faiz Shakir, a former editor at ThinkProgress, stated that field staff “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 union letter added.

Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris at 2020 Democratic presidential debate
Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris at 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate hosted by NBC, on July 1, 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Sanders on July 18 celebrated the House of Representatives passage of a national $15 minimum wage bill 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.”

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.”

Meanwhile, his campaign’s lowest level staff are currently making less than $13 an hour, according to the letter obtained by the Post, leading to some organizers quitting.

The wage negotiations stem from the Sanders campaign announcing in March that all employees below the deputy director position would be unionized. Under an agreement between the union and campaign that started on May 2, field organizers received $36,000 a year.

Soon after, the union began pressing for a raise for the organizers. The union wants a raise to $46,800 with the campaign continuing to pay 100 percent of healthcare costs, which is the case now for all employees making under $61,000, and a partial reimbursement for miles driven.

“We know our campaign offers wages and benefits competitive with other campaigns, as is shown by the latest fundraising reports,” Shakir said in a statement to the Post.

“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 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)

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.”