After years of advocating a national $15 minimum wage, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is now struggling to defend himself after campaign staff workers revealed they are not receiving $15 an hour.
While staffers are getting $15 an hour for 40 hours a week, they are not being compensated for overtime, and some of his workers are doing up to 60 hours, which brings their hourly wage down around $13 or less.
Making the situation worse, Sanders has responded by cutting hours down so that his staff can meet the $15 an hour mark. The move vindicates what critics of the $15 minimum wage have been saying for years: mandating higher wages can result in reduced hours of work.
Sanders hasn’t backed off his stance for a $15 minimum wage, however, and tweeted Sunday evening in favor of a mandatory $15 minimum for other employers.
How is it that in the richest country in the history of the world, we can't afford to pay everyone a living wage? Until we raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, I'm going to keep asking. pic.twitter.com/djDvrQ2eTJ
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) July 21, 2019
Meanwhile, his critics continue to post comments calling him out.
— Jay Dittlinger (@1Dittlinger) July 22, 2019
Another commenter expressed the hypocrisy inherent in Sanders’ position.
https://t.co/rof8e02Omt when a socialist overworks his own employees and refuses to pay a minimum wage so instead cuts hours rather than pay the higher wage. I can’t make this shit up America. #BernieMakesMySkinCrawl
— Aileya Morales (@AileyaMorales) July 22, 2019
This loss of labor hours due to a bump in wage has been discussed in numerous writings by economists including Thomas Sowell, author of Basic Economics, published in 2011.
In the chapter Controlled Labor Markets, Sowell talks about some of the downsides of mandating higher wages.
“Unfortunately, the real minimum wage is always zero, regardless of the laws, and that is the wage that many workers receive in the wage of the creation or escalation of a government-mandated minimum wage because they either lose their jobs or fail to find jobs when they enter the labor force,” he writes.
Right in the open seat of Vermont’s Senate Economic Development Committee has been economist Mathew Barewicz for the Department of Labor, and in January 2018 he warned lawmakers that a $15 minimum wage may hurt more Vermonters than it will help.
“Hours can be shifted or cut, positions can be removed, shifts can be shortened,” he told them.
He tells True North this week that while he can’t comment specifically on Sanders’ situation, again the notion of cutting hours to meet a high wage is nothing new.
“Generally speaking, it’s a response that employers have been known to take,” he said. “We still have a lot of individuals want more hours … employers are finding ways to change shifts, change schedules, adopt technologies, or change business practices [to reduce costs].”
In April 2018 Lindsay Kurrle, the commissioner of the Department of Labor, wrote an op-ed that broke down his analysis further. She broke down a study conducted by the University of Washington on a $15 minimum wage implemented in Seattle which indicated that low-wage jobs declined by 6.8 percent.
“Perhaps most shockingly, because of a 9 percent reduction in hours, total net income for low wage employees fell by $125 per month, or $1,500 annually,” she wrote. “Put simply — the data shows minimum wage hikes lead to lower incomes, fewer hours and less jobs.”
Yet Vermont politicians within the state continue to echo Sanders’ calls for the wage bump. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, who worked for Sanders during his years as mayor of Burlington, is one of those advocates.
“There is no policy right now that I’m aware of that compares with the potential magnitude of benefit as increasing the minimum wage,” he said before the 2018 session.
Policy writers also continue to back the proposal, including Yannet Lathrop, a researcher and policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project.
“Facing some of the highest costs of living in the nation, these workers need to earn more than $15 per hour today just to afford the basics,” she wrote. “By 2024, they will need even more. Analysis of EPI’s Family Budget Calculator shows that even single workers in the least expensive counties of Vermont [Essex and Orleans] need more than $19 per hour today to make ends meet.”