Bernie Sanders Makes History Again As His Campaign Staff Unionizes

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Bernie Sanders has made history again.

The Sanders 2020 campaign has officially become the first presidential campaign to unionize.

This makes sense considering the senator’s vociferous support for the Fight for $15 movement, his standing in solidarity with RoseAnne DeMoro and the National Nurses United, and the wave of teachers’ strikes sweeping the nation.

Sen. Sanders tweeted:

“I’m proud that our campaign is the first presidential campaign to unionize. We cannot just support unions with words, we must back it up with actions. On this campaign and when we are in the White House, we are going make it easier for people to join unions, not harder.”

Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir commented:

“Bernie Sanders is the most pro-union candidate in the field, he’ll be the most pro-union president in the White House and we’re honored that his campaign will be the first to have a unionized workforce.”

Sanders’ communications staffer Julia Griffin said:

“It’s really beautiful to have such solidarity with folks from all different backgrounds and job roles. When workers organize we all benefit, and I can’t wait to see how the campaign benefits from this as well.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 will represent the current 44 staff members eligible to join. Eventually, its membership will extend to 1,000 staffers in Washington, Vermont, and throughout the country.

Mark P. Federici, president of Local 400, said in a statement on Friday:

“We expect [unionizing] will mean pay parity and transparency on the campaign, with no gender bias or harassment, and equal treatment for every worker.

“I hope this breakthrough serves as a model for other presidential campaigns, as well as party committees and candidates for other offices. When candidates who claim to support the labor movement practice what they preach, that sends a powerful message that, if elected, they will deliver on their promises to strengthen union rights and level the playing field between workers and employers.”

Although he is the first presidential candidate the do so, Sanders is not the first progressive candidate for higher office to unionize.

Actor Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City fame, who challenged New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the gubernatorial nomination, also boasted unionized staff, as did Democratic congressional candidate Randy Bryce and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM).

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) is the first sitting member of Congress to have unionized staffers.

Some political observers feel this trend may pressure more political figures to follow suit.

This comes at a time when union membership in America is at an all-time low.

Public sector unions dodged a bullet in 2017 after the Supreme Court deadlocked on the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA) case that threatened to eliminate fair share fees–union dues–that support strong collective bargaining efforts.

Before that it was the 2014 Harris v. Quinn case.

Then came the devastating Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) case in July that challenged public sector unions’ ability to collect fair share, or “agency,” fees from employees who receive representation and bargaining services unions are required to provide.

Since the Court decided to strip bargaining power from America’s workers, undermining their ability to unify around better wages, benefits, workplace protections and standards for working families, it has basically turned the entire workforce into a “right-to-work-for less” sector, fulfilling a dream Republicans and right-wing groups have shared for decades.

Now that their dream is a reality, they are taking their assault to the next level.

Conservative think tanks have been contacting union members via direct marketing campaigns to persuade them to stop paying their dues.

According to internal documents The Guardian obtained from the “State Policy Network” (SPN), a national coalition comprised of 66 right-wing think tanks:

“Well run opt-out campaigns can cause public-sector unions to experience five to 20% declines in membership, costing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in dues money. This can affect the resources and attention available for union leaders to devote to political action campaigns.”

Union employees earn an average of 30% more than non-unionized workers. They receive better health coverage–92% versus 68% for non-unionized workers–and are more likely to have guaranteed pensions.

Unions’ collective bargaining agreements–contracts–help protect employees from unjustified dismissal, unlike many nonunion “at-will” workers who can be fired at supervisors’ discretion.

Unions provide safer, more equitable, more democratic work environments, provide elected representatives to defend collective bargaining agreements, and serve as bulwarks between exploitative capitalism and civil rights.

This is precisely why so many deep-pocketed entities want to destroy them.

And it is why Bernie Sanders’ campaign is committing to try to re-invigorate them.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Zoedune.