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Bernie Sanders’ staff unionizes in presidential campaign first

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign will be a union shop.

In a statement on Friday, the campaign said it had recognized its staffers’ decision to unionize, making it the first major-party presidential campaign to employ a formally organized workforce.

Sanders tweeted that he was “proud” of the historical marker and, taking a page from his stump speech, tied the development to his own pro-union message.

“We cannot just support unions with words, we must back it up with actions,” Sanders said. “On this campaign and when we are in the White House, we are going to make it easier for people to join unions, not harder.”

The staffers will be represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, which said that anyone below the rank of deputy director would be eligible to join the bargaining unit. The campaign voluntarily recognized the group, the union said in a statement, after a majority of 44 eligible employees signed union cards.

Negotiations on a contract are expected to begin soon, the union said, and the bargaining unit could ultimately reach 1,000 members.

The move will put other Democratic presidential campaigns, especially the ones competing for progressive voters, under pressure to follow suit and at least remain neutral if their staffers decide to organize. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro’s campaign has signaled it would back a similar move. On the campaign trail, Sanders has repeatedly vowed in speeches — as he did in 2016 — to make it easier for workers to unionize, often tying it to his push for a rise in the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour.

This time around, following reports of sexual harassment and pay disparities on Sanders’ last presidential campaign, there will also be added pressure to fortify safeguards against similar mistreatment.

“We expect (unionizing) will mean pay parity and transparency on the campaign, with no gender bias or harassment, and equal treatment for every worker,” United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 President Mark P. Federici said in a statement on Friday, “whether they’re in Washington, D.C., Iowa, New Hampshire or anywhere else.”

In the aftermath of 2016, Sanders implemented what he described in January as a robust new reporting structure during his 2018 Senate re-election bid — independent from the campaign — for allegations of sexual harassment and “training for all employees on this issue.”

While Sanders’ is the first large-scale presidential campaign to unionize, the move comes in the wake of a growing wave of organization within political operations — for candidates and causes — that have for decades been effectively accepted as difficult and occasionally dangerous working environments.

Campaign workers for Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state were represented by the Campaign Workers Guild during the fall midterm elections, making her the first incumbent member of Congress with a unionized campaign staff. The campaign staff of Cynthia Nixon, who ran as a progressive outsider in New York’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, was among the handful of others to take similar steps.

 

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