Campaign Staffers Get Minimum Wage Boost

Inside Subprime: August 28, 2019

By Grace Austin

A Democratic presidential candidate reversed course on campaign employees’ pay after calls for boosting their minimum wage and complaints those staffers might have to resort to payday loans to make ends meet.

Low-level field organizers for Bernie Sanders’ campaign will now receive a $6,000 raise, settling a months-long dispute over long working hours for staffers. Those hours meant salary levels were well under the $15 per hour minimum wage.

Organizers within the presidential campaign union voted for the raise in July, and it was accepted by the campaign and Sanders. The salaried workers now earn $42,000 per year and have all of their health benefits premiums covered. The staffers will also have vacation time and sick leave.

The staffers rejected a previous offer from the campaign because it wouldn’t have paid all health benefits premiums. So Sanders, in return, cut their total number of working hours.

The employees said that they regularly worked more than 60 hours per week, making their hourly wage equivalent to under $13, despite being salaried employees.

Long hours are common in campaigns, and field organizers are the lowest on the totem pole in a campaign. But through the salary loophole, as Vox explained in a recent article, campaign staffers were vulnerable to working long hours without overtime pay, pushing their incomes far below what is expected through their salaries.

Under the new agreement, the organizers are expected to work 50 hours per week and their work week will boost from five to six days. If they do work more, which is most likely, their pay an hour will be equal to less than $15.

A leaked message to the Washington Post complicated the ongoing dispute, with employees for the Vermont senator’s campaign saying in the memo they “shouldn’t have to get payday loans to sustain themselves” and it didn’t align with Sanders’ messages.

Sanders criticized the leaked internal memo, saying it should stay within the “the process” and it’s not what “labor negotiations are about.”

Still, other Democratic presidential candidates already paid their staffers the same or more. Organizers for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg make the equivalent of $42,000 a year. Campaign staffers for former Vice President Joe Biden make $48,000 annually, and the base salary for organizers of former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke is currently at the most — at $50,400.

But campaign staffers don’t make a lot of money because those funds could be used elsewhere to elect the candidate. So, as one Washington Post opinion writer said, that means it’s limiting the hours Sanders can work to “spread his message.”