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Sanders Campaign Labor Charge Alleges Staffer Retaliation (2)

July 25, 2019, 5:02 PMUpdated: July 25, 2019, 7:59 PM

New details on an anonymous unfair labor practice charge filed against Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) 2020 presidential campaign shine a light on some of the allegations against the campaign.

The charge was filed by a former staffer, a campaign spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law. The staffer alleges that the campaign retaliated against certain workers for engaging in protected labor activity, according to redacted copy of the document.

Campaign leaders “retaliated against me when I organized the bargaining unit and sent an email requesting compliance with the” collective employment contract, the anonymous staffer wrote in the charge. The staffer also said that at least three campaign workers were fired in retaliation for their organizing and union activities, among other allegations.

“The campaign leadership, from Sen. Sanders on down, respects the rights of all of its employees to speak collectively and bargain about their terms and conditions of employment, and it supports the mission of the NLRB to enforce worker and union rights,” a campaign spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law via email. “That is exactly why the Bernie 2020 campaign voluntarily recognized the employees’ chosen union and engaged in good faith bargaining that resulted in an historic collective bargaining agreement.”

“The campaign cannot discuss the specifics of this matter in order to maintain the integrity of the NLRB process,” the spokeswoman said. “We are committed to cooperating with the NLRB and we are confident that they will find the campaign honors all of its employees’ rights to both the letter and spirit of the law. Sen. Sanders and the campaign believe all workers should have a strong voice on the job and the right to due process, including the right to petition to the NLRB.”

The allegations come shortly after a tense period in the relationship between the Sanders campaign and the union representing its staffers was recently made public. The internal disagreements sparked some criticism of the White House candidate—who has made worker rights a central part of his pitch to voters—from conservatives and Republican politicians.

Sanders in an interview with the Des Moines Register last week defended his campaign’s treatment of staffers and said he was “disappointed” that some staff had taken their complaints to the media.

The Washington Post reported July 23 that unionized organizers for the campaign had won a pay raise and reached a compromise to reduce the hours of some workers. Staffers had previously expressed frustration about their pay and hours.

The charge is assigned to an NLRB regional office in Indianapolis, according to the NLRB website. NLRB spokesman Edwin Egee told Bloomberg Law July 23 that the agency has received the charge and will investigate the matter.

Once a charge is filed, an NLRB field attorney investigates the allegations. The NLRB receives 20,000 to 30,000 charges a year and investigations can take several months, according to the agency.

If the NLRB regional office determines the charge has no merit, it dismisses the charge. If regional investigators find the charge has merit, the agency can issue a complaint which sends the case before an administrative law judge.

The charge lists the Sanders campaign’s Iowa office as the employer accused of violating federal labor law, and Deputy Field Director for Iowa Brooke Adams as the employer representative. Adams didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

United Food and Commercial Worker Local 400, which represents the campaign staffers, declined Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.

Campaign Allegedly Said Employees Are ‘At-Will’

The staffer alleged that the campaign “failed to notify us upon hire that we had a” collective bargaining agreement and “maintained that we were ‘at-will.’” At-will workers generally can be fired at any time and for any reason the employer deems appropriate.

The staffer said campaign management promised “some employees housing, and not others,” despite that paid housing and expenses are required under the collective bargaining agreement. The Sanders campaign also broke the terms of its collective bargaining agreement by making staff work additional days and failing to provide days off, according to the charge allegations.

Many of the allegations appear to have occurred at least a month prior to the recent compromise reached between campaign workers and management that reduced the hours worked. The timing of other allegations was redacted.

The campaign spokeswoman disputed the charge’s depiction of the CBA. The campaign’s union contract calls for employees to have a period of probationary employment and has no promises of guaranteed housing, according to the spokeswoman. Periods of probationary employment are common in such union agreements, she said.

Sanders’ campaign staff in March became the first to unionize in a presidential race when workers voted to join the UFCW. The union inked a contract with campaign officials two months later.

Sanders, who’s a registered Independent and caucuses with Democrats, has long been a strong ally of the labor movement. He has frequently offered support to unions during disputes and appeared on picket lines with workers.

To contact the reporters on this story: Hassan A. Kanu in Washington at hkanu@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Wallender in Washington at awallender@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; Simon Nadel at snadel@bloomberglaw.com