Sen. Bernie Sanders said Tuesday that his campaign has reached a deal with its unionized staffers to increase their pay following negotiations, defusing an issue that threatened to distract his populist messaging for higher wages.
The announcement comes several days after tense discussions over pay spilled out into public view, threatening to undermine the political message of the Vermont senator, who has long fought to increase the minimum wage for workers to $15 an hour. Last week, Sanders defended the salary of his staffers, who unionized earlier this year, following a Washington Post report detailing campaign field staff’s frustration that in some cases, long hours and six-day weeks were driving down their hourly compensation.
“I was insistent that everybody on our staff make at least $15 an hour, and in fact they’re making $17 an hour,” Sanders told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on “Newsroom” Tuesday. “The offer that we made to the union several months ago would have accomplished that. And I’m happy to tell you, by the way, that offer was just accepted.”
Sanders continued, “We made an offer that would have addressed that problem several months ago, it was rejected, we underwent negotiations. It is now the offer — it has now been accepted.”
Jonathan Williams, a spokesman for the UFCW Local 400, confirmed the union and the Sanders campaign have agreed to new a compensation package within the confines of their existing collective bargaining agreement.
“Both the campaign staff and management have engaged in this process in good faith and to achieve a mutually agreed upon outcome. This is what democracy in the workplace looks like,” said Williams, who added that he would like to see other campaigns and “every employer in this country rise to the standard that we have achieved, where the rights of every worker are respected and every voice is heard through a democratic process.”
Following Sanders’ announcement, his campaign manager Faiz Shakir said “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.”
“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,” Shakir said.
In addition to the $17 an hour salary, Sanders’ unionized staffers will also have “probably the best health care plan that you can imagine,” the Vermont independent said, adding, “I believe we cover 100% of the health care cost of our workers.”
Following the Post’s report last week, Sanders said in a statement to the paper on Friday that his campaign was “committed to addressing concerns in good faith through the bargaining process.” A day earlier, he expressed frustration in an interview with the Des Moines Register that staffers were airing their complaints publicly, saying that it is “not acceptable” that “people are going outside of the process and going to the media.”
In a statement to CNN last week, Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir said that the campaign offered the field staff a boost in pay that would guarantee a $15 an hour salary commensurate with a 60-hour work week. That proposal, according to Shakir, was rejected by the membership.
The pay dispute last week came at a particularly uncomfortable time for Sanders, who had only hours earlier praised the House Democrats for their historic vote to pass of the Raise the Wage Act of 2019, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.