For all is rhetoric, it may turn out that socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders is just another hypocritical politician who takes money from big corporations, invests in Wall Street and, reportedly, pays his workers “poverty wages” (and NO overtime)—despite the fact that they’re unionized.
Back in March, to show his “pro-union” bonafides, Bernie Sanders made headlines when he encouraged his staffers to unionize with the United Food & Commercial Workers, turning his campaign into the first-ever unionized presidential campaign.
However, as often happens when activists who campaign to dictate standards upon others actually have to live under those standards, things do not always go as planned.
On Thursday, the same day that the House of Representatives passed a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour—which Sanders has long advocated for—the Washington Post ran an article that shed some light on a wage dispute that is currently going on within his campaign.
Apparently, Sanders’ campaign workers are lashing out at campaign management regarding the low wages that they are receiving.
“I am struggling financially to do my job, and in my state, we’ve already had 4 people quit in the past 4 weeks because of financial struggles,” one field organizer reportedly wrote on a message board to Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir.
Another employee wrote his co-workers “shouldn’t have to get payday loans to sustain themselves.”
Then, there was this interesting statement:
The draft letter estimated that field organizers were working 60 hours per week at minimum, dropping their average hourly pay to less than $13. [Emphasis added.]
Screenshot of an excerpt from the Washington Post’s article “Labor fight roils Bernie Sanders campaign, as workers demand the $15 hourly pay the candidate has proposed for employees nationwide,” posted July 17, 2019
As field organizers are paid an annual salary of $36,000 under their new union contract, things would be fine—if they are only working 40 hours per week.
However, it appears they are not.
If they are truly working 60 hours per week (or 3,000 hours per year), on a salary of $36,000, they are only making $12 per hour, instead of the $17.30 they should be making on a standard 40-hour week, 2,080-hours per work year.
Obviously, $12 per hour is far less than the $15 Bernie Sanders claims to support.
However, it’s worse than that.
Based on the article, it also appears that Sanders is not paying overtime.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, employees who are not exempted from the law are entitled to time and one half pay for every hour worked after 40 hours in a given workweek.[Some states (and, more importantly, some union contracts) actually mandate time and one half after eight hours.]
If the Sanders campaign workers are not exempt from the FLSA and are entitled to overtime, they should be making nearly $26 per hour for every hour worked over 40.
Following the 2016 election, the DNC was sued by former field organizers who alleged that the “the state party defendants conspired with one another and with Defendant DNC to unlawfully designate Plaintiffs, and those similarly situated, as exempt employees under the FLSA and applicable state wage statutes, thereby denying Plaintiffs full and appropriate compensation.”
Unfortunately for the DNC’s field organizers, the suit was dismissed in 2018.
In dismissing the overtime suit, according to this summary, “the Court relied on an often-overlooked defense to the Fair Labor Standard Act (“FLSA”) – namely, that the FLSA only covers employees engaged in interstate commerce as opposed to employees engaged in purely local activities. [Emphasis added.]”
That case involved multiple state parties (as well as the DNC)–and not a singular candidate.
In the case of Bernie Sanders, however, a court could determine his campaign to be a singular employer…and, if so, it is definitelyoperating across state lines (interstate commerce).
It is also possible that the new union contract may aid a court in establishing that employees are not exempted from the FLSA. However, neither the campaign, nor the UFCW has released the contract to the public.
Perhaps it’s time for Bernie Sanders to, quite literally, put his money where his mouth is.