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Bernie Sanders Workers Become First Presidential Campaign Staff to Ratify Union Contract

Bernie 2020 staff union

CONTACT:
Jonathan Williams, Communications Director, UFCW Local 400, jwilliams@local400.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 8, 2019) — In a groundbreaking development, Bernie Sanders campaign workers — now proud UFCW Local 400 union members — ratified the first collective bargaining agreement by a presidential campaign.

In taking this historic step forward, they are also revolutionizing the nature of presidential campaign work, which has traditionally been known for its 24/7 demands and difficult working conditions.

Their contract sets new standards for their field, doing so in a way that will dramatically improve their quality of life without hindering the Bernie 2020 campaign’s ability to compete for votes and delegates.

“I am so proud to be taking this historical step of becoming the first-ever presidential campaign with a unionized workforce,” said Krista Harness, a Senior Development Manager who served on the bargaining committee that led negotiations on behalf of the union. “I know that our newly ratified union contract will make our workplace more equitable, fair and resilient, and our overall campaign will be much stronger with the protections we were able to win for the workers.”

“What this union pulled off will change the way presidential campaigns are run in this country,” said Bianca Márquez, a member of the campaign’s digital team. “Representing a talented and diverse group of campaign staffers at the bargaining table and in a contract was no easy task, but we came together in support of one common goal: achieving the best contract possible and setting a new standard for the industry. As a member of the bargaining committee for the Bernie 2020 staff union, I could not be more proud of what we collectively accomplished.”

“Political campaigns are cause-driven and because there is always more work that can be done, staffers are typically worked to the bone,” said Local 400 President Mark P. Federici. “But it doesn’t have to be this way. Even political work must be subject to minimum standards. I congratulate our members on the Bernie Sanders campaign for making their own revolution.”

For many employees, this was their first experience forming a union at their workplace.

“You feel more at ease knowing you’re backed up by the strength of the union,” explained Reg Ledesma, an intern at the DC campaign headquarters who served on the bargaining committee. “This has been the first union I’ve been a part of, and I’m proud to be part of a historical moment!”

Working long hours is not unusual in the hectic campaign environment, and all too often employees are disincentivized from taking time off even when they need it. To address this challenge, the collective bargaining agreement establishes a clear but flexible workweek, as well as days off each month where the employee is not on call. It provides breaks throughout the day, including meal breaks, as well as mandatory time off between particularly long shifts. The negotiated agreement also doubled paid vacation time from 10 to 20 days per year.

The contract sets clearly defined wages and benefits along with the opportunity for employees to earn performance raises. Field organizers, who will eventually constitute the vast majority of campaign staff, will have 100 percent of their health care premiums paid for by the campaign. And interns in the national headquarters will make a minimum of $20/hour along with full medical benefits. All hourly employees are entitled to overtime pay. In addition to health insurance, the contract provides broad coverage for mental health care services.

And in keeping with Senator Sanders’ emphasis on fighting income inequality, the contract puts a cap on management pay proportional to union employees’ salaries. Pay transparency provisions and a pay equity review process are also established for employees who feel they are being unfairly underpaid.

The first-of-its-kind agreement also includes robust anti-discrimination provisions as well as comprehensive protections for immigrant and transgender workers. And it establishes employee-led Labor Committees to address ongoing working conditions and other issues with management.

All of this was made possible due to the adoption of fair labor practices by the Bernie 2020 campaign. On February 26th, the campaign agreed to remain neutral in the organizing campaign and to recognize Local 400 if a majority of workers signed union cards. This milestone was reached on March 15th, making it the first presidential campaign staff in history to unionize. Contract negotiations commenced shortly afterward, led by a committee of staff from the campaign. Negotiations were productive and the collective bargaining agreement was ratified on May 2nd by a majority vote of union employees.

“This was a model experience in every respect,” Federici said. “First, Senator Sanders walked the talk on unions, agreeing to a truly democratic process — neutrality and card check — that every responsible employer should embrace. And then, the campaign engaged in good faith bargaining, recognizing that it’s in their own interest to have well-treated employees empowered to operate at the top of their games. I urge every other campaign to follow their lead.”

John Marzabadi, who works on the advance team and served on the bargaining committee, echoed the call for other campaigns to organize. “I’m very proud of what our bargaining committee has accomplished to improve the working conditions and overall welfare of our campaign staff. In my view, the most worker-friendly campaign in the race ought to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Our contract sets the standard for others to not only follow, but to expand upon and I encourage fellow campaign workers to organize and collectively bargain for their rights.”

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The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 represents 35,000 members working in the retail food, health care, retail department store, food processing, service and other industries in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Bernie Sanders Campaign Workers Join UFCW Local 400

* Updated 7:16 p.m. ET, March 15, 2019, with quotes from campaign staff. *

CONTACT:
Jonathan Williams, Communications Director, UFCW Local 400
jwilliams@local400.org, 301-577-6687

First U.S. Presidential Campaign in History to Be Organized

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 15 — Workers on the Bernie Sanders Campaign today made themselves the first presidential campaign employees in history to win union representation, as a majority signed cards joining United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400.

This victory resulted from the Bernie 2020 Campaign’s decision to stay neutral in the employees’ organizing drive and its agreement to recognize UFCW Local 400 when a majority of workers signed union cards. As a result, all campaign employees below the rank of deputy director are now represented by UFCW Local 400 and negotiations for their first collective bargaining agreement will begin as soon as possible.

“Our union makes this campaign strong, and its workers even stronger,” said John Marzabadi, a current campaign staffer in the D.C. office and former UFCW Local 262 member. “I’m excited to be part of this historic, pro-worker campaign and encourage other campaigns to organize as well!”

“I come from working class family with a single mom. Union membership goes back to my great grandfather who worked on the Altoona railroad his entire life. He never finished high school, but because of the union, he was able to provide for his family. For myself to finally have the chance to be in a union is a true blessing,” said Julia Griffin, who works on the campaign’s communications and digital team. “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.”

“Today, we made history and did what no other presidential campaign has done before. We are so proud to join Local 400 alongside our union brothers and sisters in the struggle for security, justice and dignity,” said Christian Bowe, a campaign staff member who works on digital communications. “Senator Sanders has been fighting for workers unlike anyone in American politics for his entire life and our campaign is committed to leading the effort to revitalize, grow and empower the labor movement like none other and that begins with our own workers. Together, we are building an unprecedented and historic grassroots campaign that will not only defeat union busters like Donald Trump but transform this country to work for all of us.”

On February 26th, the Bernie 2020 Campaign and UFCW Local 400 signed a card check and neutrality agreement. By March 15th, a majority of the campaign’s 44 bargaining unit-eligible employees had signed union cards — counted and certified by Rabbi Elizabeth Richman, Deputy Director and Rabbi in Residence at Jews United for Justice, as designated by the agreement — triggering recognition and a countdown to the launch of negotiations. Over the course of the campaign, the bargaining unit could potentially grow to more than 1,000 members.

“First, I want to congratulate the Bernie 2020 campaign workers for making history and empowering themselves to improve their pay, benefits and working conditions with a strong voice in the workplace,” said UFCW Local 400 President Mark P. Federici. “I also congratulate Senator Sanders for not only talking the talk but actually walking the walk when it comes to his commitment to uphold the right of every worker to bargain collectively.

“We expect this will mean pay parity and transparency on the campaign, with no gender bias or harassment, and equal treatment for every worker, whether they’re in Washington, D.C., Iowa, New Hampshire or anywhere else,” he said.

“I hope this breakthrough serves as a model for other presidential campaigns, as well as party committees and candidates for other offices,” Federici added. “While political campaigns aren’t the easiest work environment, every worker has the right to respect and dignity. And 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.”

While this is the first presidential campaign to organize, the 2018 candidacy of Randy Bryce (D) is believed to be the first federal electoral campaign to achieve union representation. Employees of the Vermont and Idaho Democratic parties are also unionized, among others.

While this is the first political campaign represented by UFCW Local 400, the union represents a wide variety of employees in a diverse array of fields, ranging from grocery store clerks to nurses, from retail and food processing workers to police officers. The Local’s reputation for effective, tenacious and professional representation, and its strategy of empowering members was cited by Sanders campaign workers as the reason why they chose to affiliate.

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The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 represents 35,000 members working in the retail food, health care, retail department store, food processing, service and other industries in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.