$15 An Hour Isn’t Nearly Enough 
by
Rachael Warriner/Shutterstock.com

The Bernie Sanders campaign recently announced that it would be raising its salaries staffers’ effective pay to $15 an hour by shortening their workdays. This comes on the heels of reports that middling salaries and 60-hour weeks mean that Bernie staffers’ hourly pay typically averages $13. 

Frankly, such a raise isn’t close to adequate. After spending years attacking corporations for paying “poverty wages,” Sanders ought to lead the way to fairer pay by being generous to his own employees.  

Though the Democratic Party has moved decisively left since 2016, Sanders remains the most forceful and credible advocate for its progressive bill of goods. His political rhetoric on such issues as minimum wage, healthcare, and unions has remained unchanged since before most Americans were born, as has his policy agenda.

Unfortunately, his 2020 campaign has been far from a worker’s paradise. If Sanders can’t make his own operation a socialist success, how does he plan to fundamentally transform the largest economy in human history? 

I’d like to recommend a few changes to help repair Bernie’s brand: 

  • $15 an hour is just the beginning. The math is of secondary importance. What matters is that the minimum wage is a “living wage,” according to Sanders himself during his efforts to raise the minimum wage via Congress. His campaign has operations in places such as San Francisco, where a living wage ranges from $20 an hour for a single adult to a whopping $60 for a parent of three. Staffers located there ought to get their due, alongside those canvassing in New York City and D.C. 
  • Free health care is a right, not a privilege. Sanders’ “Medicare for All” proposal suggests expanding government and leveraging crushing taxes to make health care free at the point of use. His staffers are now rightfully campaigning for free health care on top of their pay raise. If he expects them to knock on doors advocating for free medical care in the sweltering summer heat, the least he could do is pay for their medical bills. 
  • Unions and labor laws are non-negotiable. The Vermont senator won praise earlier this year after his presidential campaign staffers became the first in history to unionize. He was quick to brag, declaring that “we cannot just support unions with words, we must back it up with actions.” By now whining to the media about his staff leaking private negotiations, claiming that it is “really not acceptable” for them to go public with their complaints, Sanders has potentially violated federal labor law by retaliating against his employees. The solution is for his campaign to reaffirm its pro-unionism: his employees ought to be permitted to extract concessions from management to their hearts’ content, and they ought to go on strike until they get their living wage, health care, paid vacation, student debt cancellation, and 35-hour work weeks. 

So far, attempting to maintain a $15 minimum wage has forced the Sanders campaign to restrict staffer hours to around 40 hours per week. By encouraging the senator to run his campaign the same way he wants to run the country — with a colorful goodie bag of handouts — we might be able to get those hours down to 30, 20, or even zero. Maybe socialism really could improve America.

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