Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders announced this weeked he will cut staffers’ hours so that they can effectively be paid a $15-an-hour minimum wage — prompting mockery from critics who say the move is more evidence that Sanders’ plan to raise the national minimum wage is hypocritical, and would only lead to less work and more unemployment.
The Washington Post first reported last Thursday that Sanders’ field staffers were upset that Sanders championed a $15 minimum wage on the campaign trail, and made headlines for railing against major corporations who pay “starvation wages” — even as his own employees made “poverty wages.”
In response, Sanders told The Des Moines Register he was “very proud” to lead the first major presidential campaign with unionized workers, but bothered that news of the internal strife had spilled into the media.
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The self-described socialist candidate said junior field organizers earn roughly $36,000 per year, with employer-paid health care and sick leave — but acknowledged that the salary can effectively dip below $15 per hour if staffers work much more than 40 hours per week, which is common on presidential campaigns.
The solution is to “limit the number of hours staffers work to 42 or 43 each week to ensure they’re making the equivalent of $15 an hour,” he told the Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel.
“It does bother me that people are going outside of the process and going to the media,” Sanders added. “That is really not acceptable. It is really not what labor negotiations are about, and it’s improper.”
He added that the union contract “not only provides pay of at least $15 an hour, it also provides, I think, the best health care benefits that any employer can provide for our field organizers.”
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Reaction from conservative commentators was unsparing.
“For the first time in his life, socialist Bernie Sanders practices economics and, buddy, the results are hilarious,” wrote columnist and humorist Stephen Miller. He added: “Why won’t millionaire Bernie Sanders, who owns 3 homes, instead of cutting hours, pay his staff a living wage? People are starving.”
“This situation is an instructive example of the downside of more than doubling the minimum wage,” wrote The Blaze’s Aaron Colen. “Companies don’t just suddenly get more money to pay employees. They have to make tough decisions; usually either cutting hours, or worse, cutting staff.”
The development comes days after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that a proposed $15 federal minimum wage could result in 3.7 million people becoming unemployed — far higher than House Democrats’ estimates — as employers struggle to make payroll and respond by slashing jobs and hours.
The CBO noted the “considerable uncertainty” in calculating the impact of the minimum wage from state to state, and indicated that up to 17 million Americans would see pay increases and remain employed.
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Republican leaders have said a minimum wage hike would be “devastating” for middle-class families, citing CBO research finding that the minimum wage hike would also reduce business income, raise consumer prices and reduce the nation’s output. Overall, the CBO said the move would reduce real family income by about $9 billion in 2025 — or 0.1 percent.
Nevertheless, the Democrat-controlled House last week voted in favor of a bill to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, unchanged since 2009. The bill is unlikely to see much traction in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The episode underscored a key vulnerability that has dogged Sanders’ campaign for months, and which intensified after Sanders released ten years of his tax returns earlier this year. The documents showed Sanders and his wife paid a 26 percent effective tax rate on $561,293 in income, and made more than $1 million in both 2016 and 2017.
Despite advocating for socialism on the world stage, Sanders donated only $10,600 to charity in 2016 and $36,300 in 2017, the records showed, followed by nearly $19,000 in 2018.
Meanwhile, according to a letter from campaign staffers to Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir, workers were being “expected to build the largest grassroots organizing program in American history while making poverty wages.”
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“Given our campaign’s commitment to fighting for a living wage of at least $15.00 an hour,” the letter continued, “we believe it is only fair that the campaign would carry through this commitment to its own field team.”
Sanders admitted in a combative Fox News town hall in April that “you’re going to pay more in taxes” if he becomes president.
Fox News’ Dom Callichio and Brie Stimson contributed to this report.