Tag Archives: Joe Biden

SCOOP: Bernie Sanders Raises the Bar for Campaign Employment Practices

“Labor fight roils the Bernie Sanders campaign” began a headline in The Washington Post on Thursday, July 18. In a tweet promoting the story, Post editor Matea Gold wrote: “SCOOP: For years, Bernie Sanders has traveled the country advocating for a $15 per hour minimum wage. His campaign organizers say they aren’t making that much, and they’re using his words to protest for higher wages.”

Refusing to pay your workers less than the $15-an-hour minimum wage you’ve been championing for years would be an unacceptable practice, and anti-Sanders commentators delighted in the Vermont Senator’s alleged hypocrisy. Fortunately for Sanders supporters, however, the headlines were misleading. In fact, both the body of the Post’s original story and subsequent events strongly suggest that the Sanders campaign has the best workplace policies of any presidential campaign in history.

Campaign workers are notoriously underpaid and overworked. Meager salaries, few benefits, long hours, and 7-day work weeks are the norm. Campaign workers also typically have little to no job security. These conditions were the impetus behind the recent formation of the Campaign Workers Guild, which ratified its first-ever contract with Randy Bryce’s congressional campaign in February of 2018. Since then, many other campaigns around the country, both local and national, have unionized as well.

In May of 2019, the Bernie Sanders campaign became the first-ever presidential campaign to sign a union contract. UFCW Local 400, which represents Sanders’s staff, lauded the campaign’s approach to the unionization effort, saying that “Senator Sanders walked the talk on unions,” that the campaign “engaged in good faith bargaining,” and that the overall process “was a model experience in every respect.” According to UFCW Local 400, workplace policies the campaign and union agreed on include:

  • a $15 minimum wage for all campaign staff, including interns
  • fully paid health care benefits for all full-time employees making $36,000 a year or less, with 85% of health care benefits paid for employees making more than that amount
  • four days per month when employees will not need to be on call with “breaks throughout the day, including meal breaks, as well as mandatory time off between particularly long shifts”
  • 20 days of paid vacation for both hourly and salaried employees
  • transparency for both management and consultant compensation with a rule capping management pay at 3 times the amount of the highest salary class in the bargaining unit
  • “robust anti-discrimination provisions as well as comprehensive protections for immigrant and transgender workers,” plus a process for employees to review pay equity
  • “employee-led Labor Committees to address ongoing working conditions and other issues with management”

Soon after negotiations concluded, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir proposed raising field organizer salaries from $36,000 annually to $42,000 annually while extending the expected work week from five days to six days. The union rejected this offer. On July 11, some field organizers raised concerns internally about their hours and their ability to make ends meet. Shakir responded promptly and said changes would need to be negotiated through the union. The union was preparing a proposal and had not yet sent it to the campaign when the Post’s original story broke a week later. A few days after that, on July 22, the campaign and union agreed to the salary and work week Shakir originally proposed while raising the salary threshold for which the campaign would cover the full costs of employee health care premiums (the Post reported that the union rejected the initial offer over concerns about higher-salaried workers paying a portion of their own health care costs).

That’s the entire story. Reporters and pundits gleefully blasting Sanders’s integrity are seizing on how employees made their appeal for higher wages – by saying their salaries come out to less than $15 an hour if you factor in the extra hours they’ve been working and appealing to Sanders’s pro-worker rhetoric – rather than what the union says actually happened: the campaign negotiated a historically labor-friendly contract in partnership with workers and then agreed, per that contract, to renegotiate provisions in response to worker concerns. When originally contacted about the Post’s story, UFCW Local 400 said “the Bernie 2020 campaign staff have access to myriad protections and benefits secured by their one-of-a-kind union contract, including many internal avenues to democratically address any number of ongoing workplace issues, including changes to pay, benefits, and other working conditions.” After the deal, worker representatives reiterated that “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.”

The new agreement deserves praise. $42,000 a year is still not that much money, but that salary for a 50-hour work week – when combined with 4 “blackout” days per month, 20 days of paid vacation, and fully paid health care – blows the typical campaign compensation package out of the water. Factor in the contract’s robust anti-discrimination, pay transparency, and pay equity provisions and it’s easy to see why UFCW Local 400 believes Sanders “walk[s] the talk.”

The headline writers and Twitter commentariat, on the other hand, deserve rebuke. As Daniel Marans reported, union members reacted with “a mix of anger and bewilderment” both about the leaked details of negotiations and the way those details were framed. Staff were involved in “seemingly amicable negotiations with management,” not the “labor fight” trumpeted by the Post’s headline.

Perhaps, if there’s one potential positive to it, the misleading reporting on this issue will build on Sanders’s leadership by pressuring other presidential campaigns to be more pro-worker. Besides Sanders, only Julián Castro and Elizabeth Warren have unionized staffs and neither campaign has a contract yet. The Post reports that Warren and Pete Buttigieg pay their field organizers the same amount as Sanders and that Beto O’Rourke and Joe Biden pay more, but while the Post contends these campaigns “have revealed their compensation structure for field organizers,” the paper did not try or was unable to ascertain at least some key relevant details about hours worked, health care premiums, days off, and/or management-employee pay equity from every single one of these campaigns. What the Post did find out – Biden’s non-union field organizers, for example, pay 20% of their health care premiums and typically work 60-hour weeks – appears to confirm that the Sanders campaign’s compensation package is most generous. Sanders is also the only candidate who currently lists compensation for all job openings on his website, and the Post neglected to report that at least two candidates, Biden and Warren, run what are essentially unpaid internship programs.

To the extent that people are now more aware of and outraged about the conditions campaign workers typically face, that’s also a plus. Unpaid internships need to be a thing of the past, as do 7-day work weeks. Personally, I think you should be excommunicated from the party if you try to run as a Democrat and refuse to recognize a campaign workers union.

But if you’ve read an anti-Sanders headline or tweet and wondered if Sanders is a hypocrite, wonder no more: he’s not. Sanders, who for years was one of the only congresspeople to pay his interns, is every bit the champion of economic justice he purports to be.

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Filed under 2020 Election, Labor, Media

Like Obama, Clinton Likely to Promise Big, Give Hope, and Disappoint

The discrepancy between Barack Obama’s campaign rhetoric and actions as President have disappointed many of his former supporters.  In this post, the first in a series focused primarily on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Emilio da Costa explains why Obama’s political appointments bode poorly for what a Clinton presidency might bring. Emilio, who holds a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Stanford, will in future posts explore specific policy areas in which Clinton’s record raises questions about the sincerity of her stated intentions.

Emilio da Costa

Emilio da Costa

On April 12th, Hillary Rodham Clinton officially announced that she will be running for the presidency in the 2016 election. If victorious, she will be the first female president in American history, and so, understandably, there has been considerable attention given to what that achievement would mean for gender equality. That having a woman become president would ‘shatter the glass ceiling’ is a widespread sentiment among her supporters and the hope attached to this sentiment gives her a tremendous amount of populist appeal. Unfortunately, while hope is a strong currency in the market for votes, it doesn’t always exchange so well in the realm of actual policy decisions.

We saw this same situation with Obama. Who better than a black man who eloquently spoke of hope, change, and progress to embody the ideals of civil rights, accountability, and equality that so many Americans were yearning for? And yet, even though the rhetoric was always there, the reality was a stark contrast. The Obama Administration deported more immigrants than any other in American history. While arming and funding the ‘moderate’ rebels in Syria and, at one point, drone-bombing Yemen, Somalia,  Libya, Afghanistan, and Pakistan simultaneously, Obama contradicted his supposed dedication to cooperative multilateral decision-making by unilaterally expanding war powers well beyond George W. Bush. Even the “landmark reform” in health care that the Obama Administration managed to pass, the Affordable Care Act, is a lot less impressive when you compare it to a strikingly similar GOP-sponsored health care reform plan from 1993.

By making Tim Geithner his first Cabinet appointment and maintaining “Goldman Sachs’s seeming lock on high-level U.S. Treasury jobs,” Obama made it quite clear early in his presidency that he was not the progressive he purported to be. Another appointment with a glaring conflict of interest was Monsanto’s former Vice President for Public Policy, Michael Taylor, selected to be deputy commissioner at the FDA. Even Obama’s appointments most widely praised by the mainstream liberal media have seriously tainted records. A key example of this was his appointment of Eric Holder as attorney general.

Holder’s less-than-inspiring past as a litigator did not receive the publicity it deserved. In a case representing Chiquita Brands International, Holder defended the company’s funneling money and weapons to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, a right-wing paramilitary organization on the US State Department’s own list of terrorist organizations. Writing for CounterPunch, Mario A. Murillo explained:

In 2003, an Organization of American States report showed that Chiquita’s subsidiary in Colombia, Banadex, had helped divert weapons and ammunition, including thousands of AK-47s, from Nicaraguan government stocks to the AUC. The AUC – very often in collaboration with units of the U.S.-trained Armed Forces – is responsible for hundreds of massacres of primarily peasants throughout the Colombian countryside, including in the banana-growing region of Urabá, where it is believed that at least 4,000 people were killed. Their systematic use of violence resulted in the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of poor Colombians, a disproportionate amount of those people being black or indigenous.

In 2004, Holder helped negotiate an agreement with the Justice Department for Chiquita that involved the fruit company’s payment of “protection money” to the AUC, in direct violation of U.S. laws prohibiting this kind of transaction.

Another appointment that hinted toward Obama’s true colors occurred before he was elected. Like Holder, mainstream media outlets have reported very little on the unsavory aspects of Vice President Joe Biden’s history, which include having been responsible for drafting and introducing the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995, the precursor to the PATRIOT Act so infamous for its nullification of constitutional civil liberties. More recently, the appointment of Loretta Lynch as the new attorney general has been lauded because of the opportunity it presents for the first black woman to hold the position.

Lynch’s record, like that of other appointments, isn’t exactly praiseworthy. While Lynch has been quick to attempt to develop a reputation as an international corruption watchdog by beginning her tenure with a 47-count indictment of FIFA officials, C. Robert Gibson lists the ways in which this investigation directly contradicts the treatment she afforded white collar criminals during her time as US attorney for the Eastern District of New York:

…HSBC was caught laundering $800 million for the notoriously violent and wealthy Sinaloa drug cartel in 2012 yet skated with a $1.9 billion fine — less than 2.8 percent of HSBC’s $68.3 billion in revenue for that year. To put that in perspective, if a person making $40,000 a year was fined the same percentage of income, it would only be $1,113, or about a month’s rent. And after Citibank was caught purposefully misleading investors to buy mortgage-backed securities that the bank knew were junk, Lynch’s office fined the bank $7 billion ($3.8 billion of which was billed to U.S. Taxpayers).

Gibson makes a strong case that “Lynch’s legal career is emblematic of the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street.” It included stints at Cahill Gordon & Reindel which he refers to as “the go-to law firm for New York’s financial crooks,” Hogan & Hartson, where her first case was to defend an Arthur Andersen partner who got caught cooking the books for Enron, and the board for the New York Federal Reserve, where she worked directly under the aforementioned Geithner, who became a household name after “turning a blind eye to Wall Street’s high-risk gambling schemes that led to the 2008 financial crisis.” And so, “No wonder Lynch hasn’t ever put a banker in jail during her legal career: They’re her former clients.” Not only did Lynch exhibit a characteristic lack of moral fortitude when it came to financial criminals, but managing editor for the Black Agenda Report Bruce A. Dixon paints a similar picture with respect to her prosecution of war criminals:

In 2005 Lynch was recruited by US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Stephen Rapp to administer “victor’s justice” upon the losers in Rwanda’s civil war. The US had backed Paul Kagame, trained at Ft. Leavenworth Kansas, who shot his way to power with an army that included child soldiers. In the process Kagame’s forces committed a sizeable share of the 800,000 murders in what the world knows as the Rwandan genocide. So in Rwanda Loretta Lynch interviewed only persons brought to her by Kagame’s cronies. Like the rest of the International Tribunal, she never questioned Kagame’s role [in] assassinations of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents, the tens of thousands of murders that occurred in areas controlled by Kagame’s forces, or the role of Kagame and his partners in the ongoing pillage of neighboring Congo which had taken some 5 million lives and counting by 2008.

We shouldn’t expect anything better in the way of appointments if Hillary is to become president. From donations to the Clinton Foundation to generous speaking fees and campaign contributions, there is substantial reason to believe that the relationship between Washington and Wall Street would only grow stronger with her at the helm. Despite Clinton’s effort to appeal to economic populism and appear tough on the financial industry, the next part of this series, with much credit to Matt Taibbi, will show that Clinton’s ties to the banksters run much, much deeper than do her ties to those she will be pandering to on the campaign trail.

Click here to read Part 2 of the series.

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Filed under 2016 Election, US Political System