LAS VEGAS — Joe Biden said Saturday that he thinks campaign workers should make at least $15 an hour, but he declined to weigh in on the standoff over pay between unionized field staffers and management on the team of Democratic presidential rival Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“I think so, yes,” Biden told reporters when asked whether $15 an hour should be the minimum wage for campaign staff. Asked whether his field organizers are being paid that wage, the former vice president replied, “The answer is, I think that’s true but I gotta double-check it.” He then glanced at a nearby aide.
Asked for more clarity, Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said interns on the campaign are paid at a rate of $15 an hour and that field organizers are paid a salary of $4,000 a month. The latter comes out to $48,000 a year.
The hours that organizers work each week vary, Bates said. During a 60-hour workweek, which is not atypical for presidential campaign organizers, they would be making the equivalent of $16.67 an hour.
Biden declined to offer an opinion about the recent back-and-forth between Sanders’s field staff and campaign manager Faiz Shakir, which The Washington Post reported on Thursday.
“I don’t have any idea what they’re doing on Bernie’s campaign. That’s for Bernie to decide,” said Biden, who spoke to reporters between campaign stops.
The Post obtained emails, instant messages and other documents showing that salaried field organizers in the Sanders campaign complained that because of the extensive hours they worked, they made less than the equivalent of $15 an hour.
Sanders has long demanded the nation adopt a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Many Democrats, including his presidential rivals, have embraced that figure as well.
The Sanders campaign was the first presidential effort in history to unionize part of its staff, allowing for formalized, collective negotiations over salary and benefits.
Campaign staff members cited the senator’s words and principles in making their case to Shakir for more money, according to documents The Post obtained, which were provided on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the private talks.
Sanders’s field organizers make an annual salary of $36,000, and regional field directors make $48,000 annually, according to an agreement reached between the union and the campaign in early May. Campaign interns are paid hourly and make at least $15 an hour.
According to a draft proposal union members were preparing this week, field organizers were estimated to work 60 hours a week at minimum, dropping average hourly pay to less than $13.
On May 17, Shakir recommended raising the pay for Sanders’s field organizers to $42,000 annually and changing the workweek specifications, according to an email he later wrote to staff. The union draft indicated Shakir was seeking to extend the workweek to six days.
They rejected his offer, because the raise would have elevated field staff to a pay level that would make them responsible for paying more of their own health-care costs, according to the union draft.
The union draft asked for $46,800 for field organizers and $62,400 for regional field directors. It also sought coverage for 100 percent of the health-care premium costs for employees making $60,000 a year or less.
Under the current arrangement, the Sanders campaign pays all premiums for salaried employees making $36,000 or less per year. Those making more are covered at a rate of 85 percent.
Biden’s campaign pays 80 percent of health-care premiums, Bates said. Biden’s campaign workforce is not unionized.
In a Friday statement to The Washington Post, Sanders said he was “very proud” that his was the first presidential campaign to unionize workers and said that, “through that framework, we are committed to addressing concerns in good faith through the bargaining process.”
Other presidential campaigns have revealed some details of their compensation structure in recent days. Field organizers working for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who also organized a union, make $3,500 a month, according to the Warren campaign, which works out to $42,000 a year.
The campaign of Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., said its organizers are paid $3,500 a month and work 50-hour weeks, a rate of about $16 an hour. Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke’s campaign said base pay for all staff is $50,400 annually.
The Warren and Buttigieg campaigns said they pay full health-care coverage costs for their field organizers.