In “Breakthrough” for Labor Rights, Sanders Campaign Becomes First Presidential Campaign to Formally Unionize

Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Saturday that his support for his 2020 campaign staff’s decision to unionize demonstrated his commitment to fighting for workers’ rights. Sanders’ Friday announcement made his presidential campaign the first in history to recognize a unionized workforce.

The progressive senator has been a vocal supporter of the Fight for $15 movement; teachers in cities across the country who have staged walkouts to demand fair pay; and other labor campaigns. His support for a unionized campaign staff was presented as an extension of that work as well as a signal of the policies he will promote should he win the presidency.

“We cannot just support unions with words, we must back it up with actions,” Sanders said. “On this campaign and when we are in the White House, we are going to make it easier for people to join unions, not harder.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 will represent the campaign staffers, according to CNN. Currently 44 staff members are eligible to join the union, but organizers say about 1,000 people working in Washington, Vermont, and across the country could eventually be represented by the bargaining unit.

“We expect [unionizing] will mean pay parity and transparency on the campaign, with no gender bias or harassment, and equal treatment for every worker,” Mark P. Federici, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, said in a statement on Friday.

“I hope this breakthrough serves as a model for other presidential campaigns, as well as party committees and candidates for other offices,” Federici added. “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.”

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

In recent weeks, Sanders has taken steps to address reports of pay inequality, discrimination, and harassment on his 2016 campaign.

On social media, supporters praised the senator for becoming the first 2020 candidate to formally recognize a unionized staff—following in the footsteps of progressive candidates like Cynthia Nixon, who ran for governor of New York last year; Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who became the first sitting member of Congress whose staff was represented by a union.

Some political observers also noted that other Democratic candidates may now feel increased pressure to endorse the unionization of their own staff members.