Policy Analysis

In today’s political environment, it is crucial that we, public employees and union members, have a voice in the upcoming presidential primary season. We know the importance of standing up for our shared welfare.

The endorsement UPTE makes will impact public policy directly related to our professional lives, including worker rights, safety regulations, and educational support. But just as importantly, they will direct policy that will affect our personal lives regarding issues like climate change,housing, human rights, and criminal justice reform.

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Here are positions on the issues of most importance to UPTE members from four of the five candidates we most wanted to hear from per our member poll. In order of member preference; Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Andrew Yang. The Joe Biden campaign is not included because they did not respond to our requests for an interview.

The first four issues on most people’s minds were discussed in public teleconferences with the candidate or surrogates. The positions on other issues raised by members are brief and taken from policy statements. The candidates vary in the clarity and consistency of information they make available. Corrections will be made if needed to improve accuracy.

Environment / Climate Crisis / Green New Deal

Bernie Sanders: Climate advocates are close to unanimous in claiming Bernie Sanders’s Green New Deal as the best and boldest plan to halt climate change by dealing not just with climate, but agriculture, water systems, and a fair and just transition for workers and communities. Bernie’s GND plan received the highest grades from GreenPeace (A+), the Sunrise Movement (183/200), and Data for Progress (44/48). With a backing of more than 75% of its members, Sen. Sanders was recently endorsed by the Sunrise Movement in large part due to his leadership on the climate change issue. Bernie’s GND plan will also virtually end unemployment by creating 20 million good paying, union jobs.

Bernie’s plan, with $16.3 trillion in federal investments over fifteen years, stands alone and is the investment needed to make a rapid transition from fossil fuels (and it’s entirely paid for). Sanders is unique in identifying the private ownership of energy generation as a core problem and calls for the US government to play a major role in creating renewable energy infrastructure by expanding the Tennessee Valley Authority and PMAs to generate electricity for the country.

Such heavy involvement from the federal government has been met with criticism and praise alike. For example, Dr. Borenstein, a professor at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, felt Congressional gridlock would doom Bernie’s plan. Meanwhile, Dr. Kaufman, a researcher at Columbia University who worked on climate change in the Obama administration, stated: “Mr. Sanders’s plan recognized that the planet could not afford to wait for market forces to find solutions.”

Bernie Sanders is committed to immediately end federal fossil fuel subsidies, halt new oil, gas, and coal projects, and was the first candidate to ban harmful fracking. Sanders is also the only candidate with a plan for a just and managed phase-out of fossil fuel extraction. In addition, Bernie has the most aggressive stance against the fossil fuel industry, planning not only to raise their taxes but to pursue tobacco-style litigation of greenhouse gas emitters like Exxon Mobil.

Elizabeth Warren: Elizabeth Warren released 11 climate plans, ranging from environmental justice to clean air and water and protecting public lands. Her plans include keeping fossil fuel workers from being left behind and prioritizing the health and rights of Indigenous and frontline communities. Together, these plans score second best from GreenPeace (A), the Sunrise Movement (171/200), and Data for Progress (38/48).

Warren’s plans call for a combined $10.7 trillion in investments from public and corporate sectors and have a robust roadmap to mobilize for a clean energy future. The most significant initiative is Warren’s $2 trillion 10 year investment in research, manufacturing, and exporting of cheaper clean energy. All manufacturing from this R&D would require the private sector to create jobs in the United States through federal contracts. While there will be no requirement for federal contracts to only go to companies with unionized workforces, employers will be required to maintain “complete neutrality with regard to union organizing.” Combining this initiative with other aspects of her plans would bring the total of new jobs created to 10.6 million.

Elizabeth was the first candidate to commit to ending new fossil fuel drilling on public lands and waters on Day One. She has also received praise for planning to make all future trade deals not just subject to the Paris Agreement, but independently verified by a third party to ensure they satisfy its goals. According to GreenPeace, while Warren has not yet released a detailed plan to responsibly wind down all fossil fuel production.

Pete Buttigieg: Pete Buttigieg’s Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge plan echoes the climate ambition of a Green New Deal. His agenda is very innovation-heavy, leveraging $1.1 trillion in federal investments and other financing mechanisms to reach climate clean energy benchmarks. According to the plan, these efforts will create 3 million new jobs in infrastructure and clean energy and come with “high road” labor standards, including unionized workforces and employers that offer good pay and benefits to all their workers. 

Buttigieg weaves some significant equity considerations throughout these innovation and deployment efforts. His Buy Clean program prioritizes minority- and women-owned businesses and a transitional fund supports displaced fossil fuel workers. 

However, Pete’s plan relies on risky tax incentives for carbon capture technology that could perpetuate fossil fuel pollution. In addition, he has not committed to end exports of oil, coal, and liquified natural gas and hold polluters accountable for their contributions to the climate crisis. Overall, Pete was scored lower than both Sen. Sanders and Sen. Warren by GreenPeace (B) and Data for Progress (30/48).

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Andrew Yang: Andrew Yang has said he’s “aligned and on board” with the Green New Deal and wants to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and drilling on public lands. He’s stated he wants to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2049 – however his “It’s Worse Than You Think – Lower Emissions, Higher Ground” plan relies heavily on massive subsidies for non traditional nuclear power, fusion and thorium, as well as carbon capture technology. While research and development of nuclear fusion and thorium-fueled reactors is already underway, they are currently speculative alternatives to traditional nuclear reactors. Andrew is also the only Democratic candidate to embrace geoengineering schemes, including cloud seeding. There remains significant uncertainty around these kinds of technology, including their impact on communities, jobs, health, and the environment.

A notable section of his “Moving to Higher Ground” plan is framed around proposals to do just that: relocate and adapt humanity to accommodate climate-related disasters that make previously habitable places unlivable. In this plan, Yang sets aside funds for relocation or home elevation subsidies and grants, seawalls, water pumps, ‘pre-disaster mitigation grants’ and increasing the US Forest Service budget to $24.5 billion per year for five years.

Other notable elements of Yang’s plan are a carbon fee and dividend, which would allow businesses to find market-based solutions to their carbon emissions while benefiting American citizens. And while he plans to invest heavily in building community resilience to the climate crisis, he has yet to commit to fully phasing out fossil fuels and protecting impacted workers and communities in a clean energy revolution.

Overall, Yang does not present any large-scale job or local economic development programs by design: His universal basic income program is predicated on the assertion that automation will replace many American jobs. Out of the four Democratic primary candidates listed here, Andrew Yang received the lowest grades from GreenPeace (C+) and Data for Progress (29/48).

 

Healthcare / Single Payer / Medicare for All

The UPTE understanding of Medicare for All is a single-payer healthcare system.

Bernie Sanders: Bernie Sanders remains the only candidate in the field pledging to introduce single-payer Medicare for All in the first week of his administration. His Medicare for All legislation would create a single-payer, national health insurance program that would provide everyone in America with comprehensive health care coverage, free at the point of service. This means no more networks, no premiums, no deductibles, no copays, and no surprise bills. It would effectively eliminate the very concept of or need for a health insurance plan. Eliminating networks means you can go to any doctor, hospital, specialist, dentist, or any other kind of healthcare provider of your choice – and you’re able to switch doctors at any time.

Medicare for All would cover primary and preventive services, hospital services, dental, hearing, vision, and home- and community-based long-term care, in-patient and out-patient services, mental health and substance abuse treatment, reproductive and maternity care, prescription drugs, and more.

Bernie’s plan would also stop the pharmaceutical industry from ripping off the American people by making sure that no one in America pays over $200 a year for the medicine they need by capping what Americans pay for prescription drugs.

Bernie Sanders has listed several options for funding his Medicare for All legislation. The main funding source would be a 4% income-based progressive tax, exempting the first $29,000 in income for a family of four. That means a family of four earning $60,000/year would pay an additional $1,240 in taxes. However, they would not pay any premiums, deductibles, or copays throughout the year. A second funding mechanism is a 7.5% employer-side payroll tax. On average, this is less than what employers are currently spending on premium contributions for their employees, so workers and employers should generally come out ahead under this system. Due to the progressive nature of the taxation, only the affluent would end up paying more than they do today.

Contrary to the propaganda put out by private insurers and the pharmaceutical industry, Medicare for All continues to poll positively, even after facing right-wing push back. The Kaiser Family Foundation has consistently polled Medicare for All and found that it is above water every time.

Elizabeth Warren: While Elizabeth Warren supports Bernie’s Medicare for All legislation, she has proposed a two-stage process to get there. First, she would sign executive orders to lower some prescription drug prices. Then, within the first 100 days of her administration, she would introduce legislation for a robust public option which would expand today’s Medicare to minors, low-income households, and people age 50 and older. For anyone else that would like to purchase the public option, cost-sharing measures like premiums, deducibles, and copays would continue however, costs would be modest. In the second stage, in the third year of a Warren administration, she would introduce the full single-payer Medicare for All legislation.

Warren argues that enacting the initial public option first would weaken the insurance industry, making the full Medicare for All legislation easier to pass. However, polling shows that a public option that continues to have out-of-pocket costs polls net negatively among the general public and even among Democratic Party voters. There are also concerns that Democrats may not have the political capital to mount a second battle over healthcare less than two years after passing Warren’s public option.

Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare for All financing plan is designed to be simpler than Sanders’s. It asks companies with over 50 employees to simply calculate their current average expenditure on health insurance and pay 98% of that total to the government. This guarantees that, in the short term, everyone is paying less however, economists have criticized this plan to be regressive. What Warren is proposing is a head tax, meaning that the employer side tax will be the same amount, regardless of what a worker is earning. So an employer would pay $9,500 for an employee earning $15,000 and $9,500 for a worker earning $200,000.

The reasoning behind this funding mechanism seems to be that, technically, it does not involve a new employee side tax. However, economists widely believe that it doesn’t actually matter who formally pays a tax, employer or employee, the result in either case has the same effect on a worker’s take-home pay. So while Warren is able to message that she will “not increase middle class taxes,” it is not how her legislation would actually affect working Americans.

Pete Buttigieg: Pete Buttigieg does not support UPTE’s position for a single-payer Medicare for All system. Instead, Buttigieg has released a Medicare for All Who Want It plan, essentially a public option plan. According to Pete, this means that if you are not able to find a private insurance plan from your employer or the marketplace, the public option would be your alternative. However, Pete’s health plan hinges on a ‘supercharged’ version of the unpopular Obamacare mandate. If you are not enrolled in any coverage under his plan, you would be automatically enrolled in the public option, potentially saddling you with a big bill at the end of the year for “retroactive” coverage equivalent to 8.5% of your yearly income. Overall, polling shows that voters are opposed to this policy.

Andrew Yang: While Andrew Yang said he supports “Medicare for All,” he would keep the option of private insurance. During an interview with CNN, Yang agreed that he is adopting the label Medicare for All, but not the legislation that is currently introduced in the Senate. This goes against UPTE’s position for a single-payer Medicare for All system.

Instead, Andrew Yang has a six-pronged approach to fixing our healthcare system: controlling prescription drug costs, investing in innovative technology like telehealth, improve the economics of healthcare by transitioning doctors to a salary model, shifting the focus of care to primary care and improving end of life care, ensure access to mental health care, maternal care, reproductive and sexual health, and dental care.

 

Labor and Workers’ Rights

Bernie Sanders: Disclaimer: Bernie Sanders has a working relationship with UPTE. On March 20th 2019, the Senator joined striking UC workers and spoke at an UPTE strike rally in Los Angeles. His campaign promoted the UPTE strike on his social media and he used his volunteer network to send his supporters to join the UPTE strike. Bernie also had an UPTE speaker address his August 2019 Sacramento rally.

While Democrats have long failed to deliver for organized labor, Sanders’ commitment to unions would be without precedent: He pledges to double the number of union members during his first term.

Under Bernie’s Workplace Democracy Plan, the trade union movement is placed front and center as a vehicle to rebuild the middle class in America once again. Sanders backs goals like card check – the ability to form unions with a simple majority of workers’ signatures – and “first contract” provisions to ensure companies cannot prevent a union from forming by denying a first contract. Additionally, he backs measures to make labor actions more powerful, like banning the permanent replacement of strikers and allowing “secondary boycotts,” in which workers in a labor dispute pressure other companies to stop doing business with their employer.

Sanders’ labor plan also stands out with measures to bolster worker power. Bernie is the only candidate willing to end at-will employment would mean that workers could only be fired for just cause, making that cornerstone of union contracts a universal right. Instituting wage boards would allow unions to work together to push wages up across an industry, rather than fighting out contracts with individual companies. Sandes also pledges to end government contracts with companies that take anti-worker and anti-union actions. He would also eliminate the “Right to Work for Less,” by repealing Section 14(b) of the Taft Hartley Act which eliminated the ability of unions to collect dues from those who benefit from union contracts.

Elizabeth Warren: Elizabeth Warren supports back-burnered items on the Democratic legislative agenda, such as a $15 minimum wage, “card check” legislation to make unionizing easier and a ban on the permanent replacement of strikers. Warren also says she would require all federal contractors to pay workers at least $15 an hour and would favor bids from companies with unionized workforces.

Warren is also tackling the trifecta of terrible corporate policies that have eroded workers’ rights: non-compete clauses, no-poach agreements, and mandatory arbitration. She promises to work with Congress to ban non-compete clauses, which make it super-hard for workers to find another job in the same industry. She would also outlaw so-called “no poaching” agreements for major franchisors like McDonald’s and Burger King, which prohibit franchisees from hiring workers from another franchise in the same chain.

Warren also supports California’s AB5 bill, which makes it harder for companies to misclassify employees as independent contractors. She says she would push for a national AB 5 and also make misclassification a labor violation, instead of just a tax issue. Another key part of Warren’s plan for the labor force involves boosting funding for agencies that enforce worker safety and other labor laws.

Pete Buttigieg: Pete Buttigieg’s “A New Rising Tide: Empowering Workers in the Changing Economy” plan lays out a set of policies to empower workers and raises wages, going above and beyond existing legislative proposals like the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. Pete’s goals are to accelerate wage growth for the broad middle class and restore our society’s  economic compact. He will get there with policies aimed at doubling unionization, restoring workers’ rights that have been eroded by decades of anti-worker policies by government and corporations alike, and expanding labor rights to workers who have been left out.

Pete’s plan would guarantee gig economy workers their labor rights, including unionization. It would impose strong, multimillion-dollar penalties that scale with company size when a company interferes with union elections. It would also level the playing field in union elections by requiring “equal airtime on company time,” so that workers hear from union organizers and not just employers. Additionally, Buttigieg’s legislation will enshrine the right to multi-employer bargaining and Establish a consistent preference in federal government contracting for unionized employers that provide workers with fair pay and benefits.

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Andrew Yang: Andrew Yangs “Empowering Unions in the 21st Century” plan would empower the NLRB to guarantee union negotiations and fine companies for illegally hampering union formation. He would appoint a Labor Secretary and NLRB leaders with union experience. Additionally, Yang would work with Congress to pass the PRO Act to protect workers’ rights to organize and negotiate on a level playing field.

Yang also urges the importance of unions during the “4th industrial revolution.” He supports the development of union automation expertise and access with AFL-CIO’s proposed Technology Institute as a model and encourages sectoral bargaining for tech and gig workers so union members can easily move between jobs while expecting the same floor wages and working conditions.

 

Wealth and Income Inequality

Bernie Sanders: Bernie Sanders Tax On Extreme wealth would establish an annual tax on the wealth, not income, of the top 0.1%. Compared to Elizabeth Warren’s signature ‘two-cent tax’ proposal, Sanders’s wealth tax has more and higher tax brackets that kick in at a lower wealth threshold. They start with a 1% tax on wealth above $32 million for married couples and end with an 8% tax on wealth over $10 billion (you can read about it in more detail here).

According to Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez, two economists from the Paris School of Economics who have brought the issue of income inequality to the forefront, due to the higher tax brackets Sanders’s wealth tax would actually reduce the wealth of the typical billionaire in half after 15 years. They also note that the wealth of the richest 400 Americans has a growth rate of 6.6% per year (after adjusting for inflation). This is 4.0 points above the growth of average real family wealth (2.6% per year). Due to the progressive nature of Sanders’s wealth tax, it would entirely close the gap in wealth growth between billionaires and the average American family.

Sanders’s Income Inequality Tax Plan is focused on pressuring corporations to invest in their workers, not just dividends, stock buybacks, and outrageous compensation packages to their executives. Bernie’s tax plan would raise taxes on companies with exorbitant pay gaps between their executives and typical workers (this would apply to all private and publicly held corporations with an annual revenue of more than $100 million). According to CNBC, Apple would have paid $1.4 billion more last year under Bernie’s income inequality tax plan. Imposing these taxes would progressively raise tax revenue while simultaneously curbing inequality.

Additional legislation under the banner “Corporate Accountability and Democracy” would give workers the right to buy a company if it closes, moves abroad, or goes up for sale via a low-interest loan from the federal government. Ending stock buybacks would redirect capital from investors and CEOs to workers and productive investments. Allocating workers at large companies control 45% of board seats and 20% of shares would provide labor with new levers over corporate governance and check one of the key drivers of wealth inequality.

Elizabeth Warren: Elizabeth Warren was the first in the primary race to propose a wealth tax on the rich. Warren’s wealth tax – a two-cents-on-the-dollar- tax on assets over $50 million and a 4% annual billionaire surtax on assets over $1 billion – has become a cornerstone of her campaign. While the tax brackets are lower than Sen. Sanders’, Warren’s supporters argue that a 2% tax is much more likely to pass through Congress and still gets the job done in terms of raising revenue.

Warren’s Accountable Capitalism plan would let workers control 40% of corporate board seats. It would require large corporations to obtain a federal charter which obligates their directors to consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders, such as workers and the local community, not just shareholders. To make sure that executives at these corporations are focused on the long-term interests of all stakeholders, the bill prohibits directors from selling company shares for five years after receiving them or within three years of a company stock buyback.

Warrens plan to End Wall Street’s Stranglehold on Our Economy includes a 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act that breaks up the big banks and re-establishes the wall between commercial and investment banking to make our financial system more stable and secure. It overhauls the private equity industry so that Wall Street executives can’t bleed companies dry and walk away with millions while workers lose their jobs. And it imposes tough new executive compensation rules to discourage needless speculation and encourage productive investments.

Pete Buttigieg: Pete Buttigieg’s “Economic Agenda for American Families” promises to reset the balance of power between workers and corporations. It will hold employers accountable to labor law and enforce simple tests to prevent workers from being denied minimum wage, overtime, and anti-discrimination protections – and their ability to unionize.It will also expand protections for gig workers, farm workers, and domestic workers.

As far as we could see, Pete Buttigieg does not have a formal plan for a wealth tax, worker control of corporate board seats, or increases in taxes to reduce the pay gap between executives and typical workers.

Andrew Yang: Andrew Yang believes we need to move to a new form of capitalism – Human Capitalism – that’s geared towards maximizing human well-being and fulfilment. To do so, Yang plans to change the way we measure the economy, from GDP and the stock market to a more inclusive set of measurements that ensure humans are thriving, not just getting by. He also plans to rein in corporate excesses by appointing regulators who are paid a lot of money – competitive with senior jobs in the private sector – to reduce the revolving door effect. Yang also proposes that the government create a modern timebanking system that rewards people and organizations who drive significant social value.

The above issues were chosen as the highest in important by UPTE members by open survey. Candidates who qualified for our interview process are rated on other issue positions based on the consistent stand UPTE has taken on the issue, when compared to the statements made in our campaign interviews and those posted on the candidates campaign web page at the time of the interviews.

(Joe Biden was fourth on our list. His campaign did not respond to contact attempts and as a result he was not included.)

 

End Big Money in Government

Green: Any form of campaign finance reform

Bernie Sanders: Yes

            Get Corporate Money Out of Politics

  • Abolish the now-worthless FEC and replace it with the Federal Election Administration, a true law enforcement agency originally proposed by former Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold
  • Enacting mandatory public financing laws for all federal elections
  • Updating and strengthen the Federal Election Campaign Act to return to a system of mandatory public funding for National Party Conventions
  • Passing a Constitutional Amendment that makes clear that money is not speech and corporations are not people

Elizabeth Warren: Yes

            Getting Big Money Out of Politics

  • End the practice of federal candidates taking corporate PAC money
  • Ban Lobbyists from Donating, Bundling, and Fundraising for Candidates
  • Require disclosure of major donors, bundlers, and finance events in presidential campaigns
  • Establish a 6-1 Publicly Financed, Small Dollar, Matching Funds Program for Candidates and Parties
  • Lower Contribution Limits to Individuals and Political Parties       

Andrew Yang: Yes

Attack Dark Money in Politics

  • Support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and Valeo, which were terrible decisions that have made our politics even more polarized
  • Eliminate super PACs and vessels for corporate intervention in campaigns
  • Appoint judges who don’t believe corporations have the same rights as people

Pete Buttigieg: No

 

Criminal Justice Reform

Green: End the international embarrassment of having more people in prison than any other country on earth

Bernie Sanders: Yes

Elizabeth Warren: Yes

Andrew Yang: Yes

Pete Buttigieg: Yes

 

Immigration Reform / Paths to Citizenship

Green: Defend DREAMERS and provide a path to citizenship

Bernie Sanders: Yes

Elizabeth Warren: Yes

Andrew Yang: Yes

Pete Buttigieg: Yes

 

Affordable Housing

Green: The government must address the crises (particulars not rated)

Yellow: Relies on the private sector to solve the issue

Bernie Sanders: Yes

Elizabeth Warren: Yes

Andrew Yang: Weak

Pete Buttigieg: Yes

 

Tuition and Fee Free Public Higher Education

Green: Tuition and fee free 4 year post secondary education

Yellow: Free community college

Bernie Sanders: Yes – Free public higher education for all. 

Elizabeth Warren: Yes – Free higher education based on needs testing

Andrew Yang: Weak

Pete Buttigieg: No

 

Gender Equality

Green: Address the wage gap AND defend women’s right to choose

Bernie Sanders: Yes

Elizabeth Warren: Yes

Andrew Yang: Yes

Pete Buttigieg: Yes

 

Racial Justice

Green: We have to deal with racial justice

Yellow: “Civil rights” mentioned

Bernie Sanders: Yes

Elizabeth Warren: Yes

Andrew Yang: Yes

Pete Buttigieg: Weak

 

Jobs Guarantee Program

Green: Federal jobs guarantee

Yellow: Increase jobs through the private sector

Grey: No mention of a jobs guarantee program

Bernie Sanders: Yes

Elizabeth Warren: Weak

Andrew Yang: No Position

Pete Buttigieg: Weak

 

Expanding Social Security and Pensions

Green: Maintain and expand social security and pensions

Bernie Sanders: Yes

Elizabeth Warren: Yes

Andrew Yang: Weak

Pete Buttigieg: Yes

 

Make Corporations Pay Their Fair Share

Green: Any form of sensible tax reform

Bernie Sanders: Yes

Elizabeth Warren: Yes

Andrew Yang: Weak

Pete Buttigieg: No

 

Stopping Military Intervention and Imperialism

Green: A history of anti-war activism and plans to stop funding endless war.

Grey – was no mention of any kind of foreign policy at all

Bernie Sanders: Yes

Elizabeth Warren: No

Andrew Yang: No Position

Pete Buttigieg: No

 

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