Bernie Sanders on Workers’ Rights

Over the past 40 years, the U.S. economy has not been working for most working people. As productivity has gone up, the cost of living has gone up, but median wages have fallen relative to inflation.

Not only are people’s jobs under threat of being sent overseas, but American workers are now forced to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. 66.5 percent of women and 85.8 percent of men are working more than 40 hours a week, many without paid vacation or paid sick leave.

Bernie Sanders has fought his entire career to improve the lives of working people. He is a leader in the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15, and believes that if the majority of workers decide to form a union at their workplace, they should be able to do so. Bernie stands for “real family values” which means giving workers the time and resources to spend meaningful time with their loved ones, as well as take care of those people and themselves when they are sick.

Unions & Worker Co-ops

Bernie believes that in order to rebuild the American middle class, we have to rebuild the American trade union movement and expand employee ownership and participation in the industry. Bernie has a 100 percent Pro-Union rating by the AFL-CIO and was recently endorsed by National Nurses United.

What’s a union? And what does collective bargaining mean?

A union is a legally recognized group of workers that uses collective bargaining a process of negotiation between an employer and a group of employees aimed at reaching agreements to provide basic security for workers. This agreement generally includes guaranteeing safe working conditions, ensuring that all workers’ rights are being protected, guaranteeing the ability to negotiate for better wages, and allowing workers to have a voice in the workplace.

Why do we not see as many unions nowadays?

Over the last few decades the decline of the middle class has mirrored the decline of unionized workers in America. Corporations and their lobbied counterparts in Washington, D.C. have been ferociously attacking the organizing and collective bargaining rights of public and private sector union members. This hostile environment towards labor unions benefits the multibillion dollar corporation’s bottom line, its CEOs, and its shareholders, not the average worker.

Below is a graph from the Center for American Progress Action Fund showing how the decrease of union membership has steadily declined with the shrinkage of the middle class.


What do unions think about Bernie?

Bernie has received overwhelming positive feedback from unions across the nation. In fact, over his entire political career, Bernie’s top 20 political contributors are all unions.

In June 2015, the South Carolina AFL-CIO passed a resolution supporting his presidential candidacy. Erin McKee, President of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, said in a press release: “Nobody in a very long time has stood up for working people and labor like Bernie Sanders has.”

What worker friendly policy proposals does Bernie support?

Bernie has been a longtime fighter for unions in the Congress and Senate. In his very first term in Congress back in 1992, Bernie introduced the Workplace Democracy Act, a comprehensive bill designed to empower unions to more easily organize and negotiate with employers. He did not give up on the bill despite strong Republican opposition as he re-introduced the bill every two years for nearly a decade.

More recently, Bernie voted for the Allowing Collective Bargaining for Public Safety Officers bill which required the Federal Labor Relations Authority to enforce the ability of public safety officers to engage in collective bargaining. He also voted against a 2011 amendment which would have terminated collective bargaining rights for employees of the Transportation Security Administration.

I’ve heard Bernie mention worker co-ops. What are those?

Worker co-ops are businesses owned by their own workers. Employees invest in the business, and decisions are all democratic.

Does that really work?

There are many successful cases of worker-owned businesses, but also some failures like any other type of business. With so few worker co-ops across the country, there is not much research available, but studies so far suggest that worker co-ops are at least as productive as comparable traditional businesses. Bernie supports them because, like unions, they give employees more influence over their own work lives.

“Simply put, when employees have an ownership stake in their company, they will not ship their own jobs to China to increase their profits,” Sanders said. “They will be more productive. And, they will earn a better living.”

How has Bernie tried to advance worker co-ops?

In 2014, Bernie introduced two bills which would provide loans and general support to worker-owned businesses: the United States Employee Ownership Bank Act and the Worker Ownership, Readiness, and Knowledge Act.

Keeping Jobs in the U.S.

Bernie has been a leader in Congress in the fight against free trade agreements. In his view, these trade deals have off-shored a massive amount of decent paying jobs and have closed tens of thousands of factories across our country.

What is a trade agreement?

Trade agreements are pacts between countries that concern tax, tariff, and trade — in other words, how business will be conducted between the countries signing the agreement. These pacts usually include some kind of investment, the most common of which is the free or preferential trade agreement, which aims to reduce or completely eliminate tariffs, quotas, and various other sorts of restrictions between the signatories.

Why is Bernie against most trade agreements?

He believes that free trade agreements like NAFTA, PNTR to China, and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement have allowed too many American jobs to move overseas.

Read what Bernie had to say this past May in an op-ed in the Huffington Post:

“Since 2001, nearly 60,000 manufacturing plants in this country have been shut down and we have lost over 4.7 million decent paying manufacturing jobs. NAFTA has led to the loss of nearly 700,000 jobs. PNTR with China has led to the loss of 2.7 million jobs. Our trade agreement with South Korea has led to the loss of about 75,000 jobs. While bad trade agreements are not the only reason why manufacturing jobs in the U.S. have declined, they are an important factor.”

Was he always against these trade deals?

Bernie’s been consistently speaking out against these deals for his entire political career. Check out our Trade page for many more examples, but for now see this sneak peak below:

Hilariously, Bernie put his fellow Representatives on the spot before the NAFTA vote by introducing a bill that if NAFTA were to pass, the members of the House would have to lower their wages to be competitive with politicians in Mexico. Here he is introducing the bill:

Trade has been in the news lately. What’s happening now?

Right, that’s the TPP, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It’s a massive trade deal between many countries around the Pacific ocean, involving 650 million people. These countries include Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. These countries would be able to trade with each other much more freely, without large tariffs paid to the government for moving goods around.


What’s so bad about lower barriers to trade?

All of the previous trade deals had disastrous consequences for American workers, so there’s no reason to expect any different. Plus, there are some parts of the TPP which would allow corporations to sue governments for actions hurting their profits. This could be easily abused to limit governments in keeping their citizens and the environment safe. The settlements could even be decided by corporate lawyers.

What has Bernie said about the TPP?

Bernie is leading the movement against the TPP. In a statement he says:

“Let’s be clear: the TPP is much more than a free trade agreement. It is part of a global race to the bottom to boost the profits of large corporations and Wall Street by outsourcing jobs; undercutting worker rights; dismantling labor, environmental, health, food safety and financial laws; and allowing corporations to challenge our laws in international tribunals rather than our own court system.”

Bernie talking about the TPP in May 2015

How does Bernie propose we keep jobs in the U.S.?

Bernie has introduced the Rebuild America Act to the Senate which would create over 13 million good-paying jobs by investing $1 trillion in our crumbling infrastructure. It would be paid for by closing corporate income tax loopholes and overseas tax havens.

Learn more by visiting the Infrastructure issue page or the Trade issue page.

Affordable Childcare & Early Childhood Education for All

We live in a country where 66.5 percent of women and 85.8 percent of men are working more than 40 hours a week. Today, parents spend less time at home and children spend more time on their own. Bernie believes that we should offer affordable childcare and early childhood education to all Americans, so that parents can be more productive and their children can be more likely to succeed.

Bernie wants higher quality and more affordable child care.

In his Economic Agenda for America, Bernie states:

“With both parents now often at work, most working-class families can’t locate the high-quality and affordable child care they need for their kids. Quality education in America, from childcare to higher education, must be affordable for all. Without a high-quality and affordable educational system, we will be unable to compete globally and our standard of living will continue to decline.”

Given that most American parents cannot afford to take off from work, it is essential that there be access to affordable child care that families can rely on. According to a 2012 report by non-profit Child Care Aware, in most of the country child care is more expensive than in-state tuition at public colleges.

While speaking during a roundtable with the Every Child Matters Education Fund, Bernie called our lack of a child care system “a disaster”. Bernie proposed the Foundations for Success Act in 2011 to help address these lapses.

Bernie believes in investing in early childhood education.

Though his 2011 bill for universal pre-kindergarten did not pass, as a presidential candidate, Bernie is pushing for the idea again. At an Iowa campaign event in July 2015, Bernie said not supporting such an idea is tantamount to “turn[ing] back on children” and is “disgraceful.”

In order to pay for universal pre-K (as well as free tuition at all public colleges), Bernie proposes a tax on Wall Street speculation. An economist from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote an op-ed in the New York Times analyzing the proposal:

“An itty-bitty, one-basis-point transaction tax (a basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point, or 0.01 percent) would raise $185 billion over 10 years, according to new estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. That would be enough to finance an ambitious expansion of prekindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-olds and restore funding of college assistance for low-income students.”

Learn more about Bernie’s proposals on the Education issue page.

Where do we stand compared to the rest of the world when it comes to education?

According to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranks 33rd of 36 nations in reading literacy, 27th in mathematical literacy, 22nd in science literacy, and 18th overall in secondary education.

Bernie in 2010, calling for a “revolution in education and child care”

Read more about Bernie’s record on affordable child care and increased access to education at our Public Assistance and Education issue pages.

Paid Family & Sick Leave — Plus Vacation

Today, when the vast majority of American women give birth, they have to go right back to work because they cannot afford to take time off. Family leave for fathers to bond with their newborn is even rarer. As Bernie says, this is the exact opposite of “family values.”

Also, many workers go to work sick because they don’t have paid sick leave. Bernie believes this is bad for the American people, and bad for the economy.

What do other countries do?

Well, let’s put it this way: the United States is the only developed country without mandatory paid sick leave. Americans also work more than anyone else in the industrialized world: we put in longer hours, more time over the weekends, and take less vacation.

Check out this graphic from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — we work even harder than workers in Japan, who are known for their productivity:


Let’s start with paid family and sick leave. Why does Bernie think paid time off after pregnancy is so important?

Bernie agrees with the majority of psychologists that the first weeks and months of life are immensely vital to child development. In a June 2015 blog post, Bernie wrote:

“It’s an outrage that millions of women in this country are forced back to work after giving birth, simply because they don’t have the income to stay home with their newborn babies… When a mother can’t spend time with her newborn child during the first weeks and months of life, that is not a family value.”

How about paid time off to take care of sick loved ones? And when you’re sick yourself?

Bernie believes that paid time off to care for sick loved ones, and to recuperate when you yourself are ill, contributes to greater happiness and economic productivity.

That’s fair. I don’t want to work when I’m feeling sick, have a crying newborn, or am worried about a sick relative. What’s Bernie doing about it?

He is supporting various efforts to make some form of paid family leave, paid sick leave, or paid vacation time available to all American workers.

Bernie is a cosponsor of the FAMILY Act, introduced in June 2015, which guarantees at least twelve weeks of paid family and medical leave. This bill, if passed, would allow workers to take paid time off after a new birth, to care for a sick loved one, or if they themselves are ill. He is also a supporter of the Healthy Families Act, introduced in February 2015, which would guarantee seven days of paid sick leave per year to every worker — a benefit 43 million American workers don’t currently have.

I have paid vacation time — so do a lot of people I know. How many Americans actually get no paid vacation?

Well, consider that a privilege! Check out this graph by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:


What’s Bernie doing about paid vacation time?

Bernie introduced a bill of his own in June 2015 called the Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act, which would provide 10 days of paid time off to anyone who’s worked for over a year at a business that employs at least 15 people.

Addressing Economic Exploitation of Workers

While American workers’ productivity has risen, Bernie believes they must not be exploited by being forced to work more hours while still earning lower wages than ever before. In addition to his efforts around paid time off, Bernie is also deeply concerned with the number of hard-working Americans who live in poverty in spite of working many hours and several jobs.

How many hours do we work compared to the rest of the world?

According to the OECD, in 2013 Americans worked 54 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 119 hours more than British workers, 299 hours more than French workers, and 425 hours more than German workers. According to this Gallup poll, the average American working a full-time job is working well over 40 hours a week:


If Americans are working so much, why are so many stuck in poverty?

A cornerstone of Bernie’s campaign is his answer to this question:

“What we have seen is that while the average person is working longer hours for lower wages, we have seen a huge increase in income and wealth inequality, which is now reaching obscene levels. This is a rigged economy, which works for the rich and the powerful, and is not working for ordinary Americans.”

Today, Americans are having a hard time finding full time jobs, while at the same time part-time workers are forced to work fewer hours in order for businesses to fit in more workers without providing them benefits. All of these factors force Americans to work two or three jobs in order to make ends meet.

Per a Heritage Foundation study, between 1973 and 2012 productivity has risen 100 percent while the average hourly wage has decreased by seven percent. This shift is due to many factors, most of them cloaked behind the idea of trickle-down economics.


So what does Bernie believe we can do for the average American worker to save them from exploitation?

Bernie’s own words from a statement before the November 2014 midterm elections speak for average American workers:

“Our job is to make a political revolution. Our job is to educate and organize so that working people fight for their rights and for their dignity and are actively participating in the political process. When we do that, when we stand together, we win: Health care for all, a fair distribution of wealth and income, a major federal jobs program, higher wages, reversing global warming and real campaign finance reform.

When we give up and don’t participate, we lose. And what we will see is the continued collapse of the middle class and an increase in poverty, cuts in Social Security and Medicare, a growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, no increase in the minimum wage, no effort to make college affordable and more devastation because of global warming.”

Learn more about his plans to address economic inequality.

I’m looking for information about what Bernie has done to support undocumented workers and agricultural laborers.

He supported the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to end sweatshop conditions in Florida’s tomato fields — that covers both undocumented and agricultural laborers. But you’re probably looking for a lot more than that. Learn more about what he did on the Immigration, Latino Rights, and Agriculture issue pages.