Sanders Touts $15-per-Hour Wage — But Doesn't Pay It | Off Message

Bernie Sanders
Sanders Touts $15-per-Hour Wage — But Doesn't Pay It


Sen. Bernie Sanders, right, campaigns for president in New Hampshire in May with campaign field director Phil Fiermonte, center. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, right, campaigns for president in New Hampshire in May with campaign field director Phil Fiermonte, center.
When Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled legislation Wednesday to increase the minimum wage, he said: “We have got to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and we are introducing legislation today to do just that.”

The Vermont independent, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, followed up his statement with an email to campaign supporters. In it, he quoted Elizabeth from Ohio as saying, “I could afford to go back to work if minimum wage was $15. It costs my family less for me to stay home than to pay childcare and transportation costs to work for $9.50/hr.”

Those listening to Sanders and reading his email might readily have concluded that Sanders wants American workers to be getting at least $15 an hour now. 

Not so. In fact, Sanders himself is paying some of his campaign workers less than $15 an hour. Full- and part-time interns on his campaign are making $10.10 an hour, Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said. Some other staff members also appear to be making less than $15 an hour.

The champion of workers’ rights might be paying better than your average creemee stand, but his campaign staff's starting pay is not a whole lot more than the $10 an hour Walmart pledged to pay its workers starting next year.

Briggs defended Sanders' campaign pay as in line with an executive order President Barack Obama signed last year as the minimum wage for contracted federal workers. Sanders' proposed legislation, Briggs said, does not call for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour until 2020.

Though Elizabeth from Ohio and others Sanders quoted in the email to supporters offered no indication that they'd be happy to wait five years for the $15 an hour, that's what Sanders has proposed. The bill he introduced calls for raising the federal wage from its current $7.25 an hour to $9 in 2016; $10.50 in 2017; $12 in 2018; and $13.50 in 2019 — before hitting $15 in 2020. 

In Vermont, where Sanders’ campaign is based, the minimum wage this year is $9.15 an hour. That’s slated to rise to $9.60 in January, $10 in 2017 and $10.50 in 2018.

Looking at Sanders' July campaign finance report, it's not easy to discern just how much Sanders pays his employees. The report lists expenditures, including payroll, but Briggs said the salary figures are post-taxes. That makes it difficult to figure out hourly pay.

Sanders lists 33 campaign staff members on his campaign finance report, ranging from top dogs to part-time interns. The July report shows eight staffers receiving $683 twice a month. Briggs said those are $10.10-an-hour interns who regularly come to the office. The campaign also has volunteers, he said.

Interns on Sanders’ Senate office staff are paid $12 an hour, Briggs said. That’s more than some interns make in Congress. A 2013 report in the Atlantic magazine found that only 35 of the 100 senators paid their interns at all.

Beyond the interns on Sanders’ campaign staff, there’s a wide range of pay. Most workers won’t get rich off the job. Campaign manager Jeff Weaver makes the most, earning $4,934 twice monthly.

Briggs, who is Sanders' Senate spokesman and his campaign spokesman, draws half a salary from both roles, and gets his health coverage through his Senate job. Next month, he said, he will shift to one day a week on the Senate staff.

For campaign workers, Sanders appears to be more generous with health coverage than the average U.S. employer. His July campaign-finance report lists expenditures to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Vermont to cover employee health insurance. All full-time campaign employees are eligible for coverage on the first of the month following their hire date, Briggs said.

The campaign covers 90 percent of the premium for those making less than $35,500 a year and 80 percent for those making more, Briggs said. According to the Insurance Journal, U.S. employers are contributing an average of 66.4 percent of health premiums this year.