Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is quite the hypocrite. The 2016 Democratic presidential runner-up and 2020 contender has long championed increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and chided companies like Disney and McDonald’s for not paying their employees that much. Last week, news broke that Sanders’ presidential campaign is not paying staffers a salary equivalent to $15 per hour. Field organizers said they make $36,000 per year working 60 hours per week, an average of $13 per hour.
Sanders responded in a way that proves critics of the minimum wage 100 percent correct.
Using government force to increase the minimum wage creates a great deal of economic disruption, making life harder for the workers such a law is intended to help. Forcing companies to pay a higher wage leads employers to seek out less expensive automation, fire increasingly expensive workers, or cut the hours employees can work. Sanders opted for the third choice.
After Seattle raised its minimum wage, the University of Washington found that the minimum wage law reduced the number of hours worked by 9.6 percent. Thanks to shortened shifts and lost jobs, the average low-wage worker ended up taking home $125 less each month.
Similarly, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir told Newsweek that the campaign is “limiting hours so not employee is receiving less than $15 for any hours worked.” In other words, just like any other business, the campaign is trying to cut costs in order to compensate for high wage demands.
Shakir has been working with the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents Sanders campaign employees. Some employees have reportedly left the campaign over money.
“We look forward to continuing those discussions and obviously are disappointed that some individuals decided to damage the integrity of these efforts before they were concluded,” Shakir said. “As these discussions continue, we are limiting hours so no employee is receiving less than $15 for any hours worked.”
The Sanders campaign unionized in March 2019, and agreed with the union to pay field workers $36,000 per year with platinum-level health care, paid vacation, sick leave, and other benefits. Ironically, the campaign previously offered a pay increase for field organizers, but that was rejected in a formal vote. Shakir offered to pay organizers $42,000 per year and extend the work week to six days, but that would have increased the pay to a level at which workers would be responsible to pay more of their health care costs.
As an aside, I worked on the Mitt Romney campaign in 2012. A young political idealist who wanted to defeat Barack Obama, I accepted a $24,000 per year paycheck to work 81 hours per week. As anyone in campaign work can tell you, you don’t work on a campaign for the money. The $36,000 with platinum-level benefits is already cushy for campaign work.
The fact that Sanders staffers actually left the campaign over even this pay is quite revealing. Apparently, the socialist’s campaign staff don’t believe in the cause enough to accept the standard struggles of a campaign employee. Bernie Sanders was a source of hope and belief in 2016. Now he’s “the man”: a millionaire with power in the Democratic Party whose oppressed workers need to unionize in order to get “fair” wages. This may be a worse knock against his campaign than the hypocrisy of him paying less than $15 per hour.
Yet that hypocrisy is still noxious. Bernie Sanders may claim that companies can just afford to immediately pay workers $15 per hour, but his own actions prove just how hard it is to do so. Even the self-described democratic socialist cannot merely increase his wages without compensating somehow — in this case by cutting hours.
Minimum wage increases are economically dangerous, and now even Bernie Sanders has shown why.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.