On Friday, Bernie Sanders (I-VT) campaign announced they would become the first presidential campaign to live the socialist dream and unionize in an effort to, “mirror their progressive platforms within their own campaigns.”
Over the past week, a majority of the staff’s bargaining unit employees designated United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 to represent them. The campaign stayed neutral during organizing efforts and voluntarily recognized the union once a majority of staffers signed union cards, according to both the campaign and the union.
UFCW Local 400 President Mark P. Federici said in a statement he expects the decision will mean pay parity and transparency for Sanders’ campaign along 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.”
Sound too good to be true? Collective bargaining always does. Because unions are, as this eager and optimistic lover of socialism admits, part of the utopian ideal.
“Socialism”—though conceptually watered down to near meaninglessness, but socialism nonetheless—is the topic du jour in electoral politics. For unions, socialism is nothing to worry about. Unions are the embodiment of true socialism in the workplace. Each worker is not an individual struggling against overwhelming forces; all workers, together, are one, and will fight for one another in mutual cooperation. It’s great! The left loves unions, naturally, because unions are the most effective grassroots manifestation of the sort of “we, not me” spirit that motivates the ongoing backlash against American-style rapacious capitalism.
Apart from the fact that a utopia, by definition, is an imagined place of perfection (the implication there is that they are imagined because they are not real), unions have other real problems, particularly in the public sector as this 2018 analysis of the Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees makes clear.
Over the past four decades, unionism has made life better for many public employees. It has also made state and local government bigger, costlier and more complex — and more beholden, politically, to its own workforce.
Democratic state and local politicians admit privately — and even publicly, sometimes — that dealing with the unions makes it much harder to govern. I have heard one such official express envy for Gov. Scott Walker, the Wisconsin Republican who ended mandatory public-sector dues and sharply restricted bargaining in his state.
Part of the problem with public sector unions is that any collective bargaining financial gains come directly from taxpayers, which leads to a whole host of problems.
Public sector workers are funded by taxpayers, not business entities. This means that their wage and benefit demands are not subject to market forces. If a union demands too much from a corporation, they will push it into bankruptcy. There are no similar checks on government worker unions.
Similarly, public sector workers can negotiate work rules that increase the inefficiency of the government operation, but again, the end result is not bankruptcy, but merely more government workers, higher taxes, and more spending and borrowing.
But campaigns aren’t taxpayer funded. Campaigns take in private donations (that must be reported to the FEC) and can be funded by the candidate themselves. Which raises the question of, for example: how would a strike for higher wages would be resolved if the campaign hasn’t taken in enough to fund it? Do they hold a fundraising event to end the strike? Would Bernie Sanders have to pick up the check personally? How about the Democrats’ favorite villain (that they don’t actually hate at all), “dark money”? How do PAC funds come into play given the rules against coordination with the campaign?
All of this is academic, of course, if everything runs smoothly and campaign staffers are satisfied with their salaries. But, as David Freddoso implied last year regarding state race unionization efforts, what’s the point of the union if not to use it?
My first question is, in what way were these workers abused such that they’d feel the need? Or is this just a gimmick that has less to do with campaign workers’ needs than with an illusion of workers’ solidarity in the Democratic Party? Or, okay, assuming this is really the love-fest that the above email suggests, I wonder how other Democratic candidates around the nation are going to feel about it. How long until it becomes a matter of routine for Democratic candidates to ask why their opponents haven’t hired unionized campaign workers? And in the event that unionized campaigns find success, will the workers go on to become unionized Hill staffers?
This may simply be a political move to get struggling unions on board the Sanders campaign, since they’ve been none too impressed with some of the newer Democratic Socialists on the scene.
Sanders is taking a huge risk if it’s not a move he’s making on principle and rather one borne of political necessity. But it should be a fun experiment to watch.
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