In a virtual discussion, Sanders hosted the Democratic vice presidential nominee, union representatives, and groups fighting to increase the minimum wage.
Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris met Thursday night for a virtual discussion about the minimum wage, workers rights, and improving working conditions for essential workers.
Sanders served as moderator for the discussion, which included speakers from workers unions, home healthcare workers, and people who have been fighting to increase the federal minimum wage.
“All across America today, unbelievably, families are struggling to put food on the table, they are unable to go to the doctor when they get sick because they have lost their health insurance,” Sanders said in his opening remarks.
Harris, the vice presidential nominee, focused on the economic goals she and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden hope to accomplish if they are elected to office.
“First of all, we cannot overlook the impact of this pandemic on the economy and on working people. But in so many ways, I think the pandemic has really been an accelerator, which means that for folks that were doing poorly before, they’re doing worse now. And it has then put a magnifier on the inequities that have long existed,” Harris said.
She also talked about employers that refused to give their workers sick leave. Without paid sick leave, workers are often forced to choose between going in to work and having a full paycheck or losing a day’s pay and staying home to recover. Harris noted that the pandemic has shed a harsh light on the fact that often it’s better for the whole community for the worker to stay home and recover without major contact with others.
“The injustice [of not paying all workers sick leave] has been highlighted in a way that perhaps some people have realized for the first time, that if that worker does not have paid sick leave, that will impact them too,” Harris said.
Harris also talked about the importance of childcare and pre-kindergarten programs. The pandemic has illustrated that to get parents back to work, families need reliable, quality childcare. Families are often forced to either pay a high price for tuition, or leave the workforce and care for their children at home.
“No family should pay more than 7% of their income in childcare, period,” Harris said. “This is about addressing the hypocrisy of it all. We say we care about families, but families need help paying for childcare. Everyone benefits, when any family has the ability to provide for essential needs of the children in their home.”
Sanders also spoke with Mary Kay Henry, who serves as the International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Henry said essential workers have been forced to continue working their jobs in the midst of the global pandemic and they are fed up.
“Essential workers have been putting their lives on the line to keep our country running,” Henry said. “Essential workers are completely fed up with the current administration. [Each of the current crises] have made it crystal clear that we will not return to normal and it’s no accident that people of color have been on the front lines of these crises and are being hit the hardest and are risking their lives for less than $15 an hour.”
For years the federal minimum wage in the US has remained stagnant. Over time the minimum wage has not kept up with the cost of living and low wage workers are forced to work long hours or take on multiple jobs to make ends meet.
Harris explained that if she and Biden are elected to office they would work with congressional leaders to raise the minimum wage. Sanders concluded the event by explaining that the goals outlined in the discussion are not groundbreaking.
“This is the richest country in the history of the world, people should not have to work for 40 years to make $15 an hour,” he said. “All of the goals we’re talking about here, universal healthcare, decent wages, paid family and medical leave, universal child care, these are not radical ideas, they exist all over the world.”