Democrats are planning to reintroduce a bill that will increase the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, but its backers provide their interns far less, according to information provided to InsideSources.
Democrats have argued anything less than $15 an hour is essentially a starvation wage. Democratic Sens. Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, Patty Murray, and Elizabeth Warren joined a number of other lawmakers in support of a bill that would enact the increase nationally. Most of those lawmakers, however, have unpaid internship programs.
Sanders provides his interns the most compensation compared to the other supporters at $12 an hour. Another six lawmakers offer a stipend or some sort of financial assistance. Most of the supporters don’t provide any pay whatsoever. The information was provided to InsideSources by the Employment Policies Institute (EPI).
“While these senators are willing to buck the economic experts and back a $15 minimum wage, most are unwilling to pay their interns even the current minimum wage,” EPI managing director Michael Saltsman told InsideSources. “Perhaps they understand that a pay requirement for internships would reduce the number of opportunities available. The exact same dynamic applies in the private sector.”
The EPI is a nonprofit research organization that advocates for conservative labor policies. The group has been highly critical of the $15 minimum wage over the potential economic problems it poses. It has released papers and launched a number of media campaigns against the policy.
Sens. Sherrod Brown, Mazie Hirono, Tim Kaine, Patrick Leahy, Brian Schatz, and Elizabeth Warren are the only supporters that publicly highlight stipends or some form of financial assistance for interns. Sen. Chris Van Hollen pays his interns, though it’s not reflected on his website.
David Carle, a spokesman for Leahy, notes that his office is one of the few that actually provides interns with pay. “Sen. Leahy is actually, for many decades, he has been one of the few members of Congress who offer paid internships so not only wealthy people from wealthy backgrounds but students from modest or low-income means are able to have internships,” Carle told InsideSources.
Carle proceeded to hangup when asked how much his office actually pays its interns. Leahy’s congressional website has no mention that interns get paid except for a stipend. The website also states that while stipends are available, they’re not guaranteed.
Most of the lawmakers backing the bill provide unpaid internships without any indication that a stipend or financial assistance is available. This includes Sens. Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Maria Cantwell, Kirsten Gillibrand, Dianne Feinstein, Al Franken, Kamala Harris, Ed Markey, Jeff Merkley, Jack Reed, Sheldon Whitehouse, Ron Wyden, and Patty Murray.
Sanders has been at the forefront of lawmakers pushing to have a national $15 minimum wage. His internship program is one of the best paid, but his position as a leading advocate has prompted accusations of hypocrisy. He has been called out in recent years for paying his interns only $12 an hour.
“For the last 10 years, Congress, giving tax breaks to the rich, has forgotten to raise the minimum wage,” Sanders told supporters gathered outside the capital Wednesday. “We are here to remind them that a $7.25 minimum wage is a starvation minimum wage. Nobody can live on $7.25. You can’t live on $8. You can’t live on $10 an hour.”
Sanders originally introduced the legislation in July 2015 during the campaign. He made the policy a critical component of his presidential run. He has also participated in rallies and given speeches in support of the policy. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton eventually moved to support it during the campaign too.
Seattle became the first place in the entire country to pass the increase in June 2014. The measure was designed to gradually phase in the increased minimum wage. Many other cities have since done the same. New York and California became the first and only states to pass the policy last year.
The Fight for $15 movement has been at the forefront of the minimum wage debate in recent years. The movement and its supporters argue the policy will help lift low-wage workers out of poverty. The movement is primarily supported by labor unions like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Those opposed to the increase warn it will actually hurt the poor by reducing employment opportunities. Employers could be forced to reduce their staff or increase prices to overcome the added cost of labor. Some critics have even expressed concern that the movement is just trying to boost union membership.
The National Bureau of Economic Research and The Heritage Foundation found the increase will have a significant impact on employment. They found the risk is especially bad for young and low-skilled workers. The University of California, Berkeley found any losses would be marginal compared to the potential benefits.
Brown, Hirono, Sanders, Schatz, Warren, Durbin, Booker, Cantwell, Franken, Harris, Merkley, Reed, Whitehouse, Wyden, and Murray did not respond to a request for comment by InsideSources. Schumer, Blumenthal, Gillibrand, Feinstein, Kaine, and Markey could not be reached for comment.
Editor’s Note: The article originally stated that Sen. Chris Van Hollen did not pay his interns. It has since been corrected to reflect that he does.