The AFT Questionnaire for Presidential Candidates: Bernie Sanders’ Responses

The American Federation of Teachers has officially endorsed Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president in 2016.

But the AFT asked each of the candidates to respond to a questionnaire covering a wide range of topics, starting with K-12 public education but ranging far beyond that.

Excerpted in this post are the responses of Bernie Sanders on topics of most direct interest to college and university faculty.


Escalating tuition and fees are leading to a growing number of students leaving college with overwhelming debt from student loans. This burden of rising costs and rising debt makes access to higher education increasingly difficult for many students and their families. What is the role of the federal government in ensuring that higher education is affordable and accessible?

BS: Skyrocketing college tuition has left college out of reach for hundreds of thousands of students, and left millions more deeply in debt. In an increasingly global economy, I believe it is unfair and bad economic policy to force our young people to compete with workers from other countries who can pursue a higher education at little or no cost. This is why I introduced the College for All Act which would create a federal-state partnership to eliminate undergraduate tuition at public colleges and universities. In addition, this legislation would slash student loan interest rates, and allow borrowers to refinance their loans. If elected, I would continue my work to eliminate tuition at public colleges and to alleviate the burden of student debt.

There has been a nationwide pattern of disinvestment in public higher education such that per-student funding dropped 26.1 percent between 1990 and 2010. What would your administration do to remedy this?

BS: State disinvestment has unquestionably been a prime driver of skyrocketing tuition costs. I strongly support the creation of a federal-state partnership that will incentivize states to re-invest in their public higher education systems. . . .

What is the federal government’s role in requiring appropriate transparency and accountability of for-profit institutions?

BS: In my view, for-profit colleges and career programs have perpetrated a massive fraud at the expense of American taxpayers, and hundreds of thousands of students who are now saddled with worthless degrees and massive amounts of student debt. As the gatekeeper to financial aid programs, the federal government must be far more vigilant, and do a much more effective job in protecting students and taxpayers from low-quality and fraudulent programs. I support efforts to implement gainful employment regulations, and regulations requiring that no institution receives more than 85% of its revenue from federal sources. In addition, I support efforts to increase transparency in the sector, so students and policymakers have a clearer understanding of institutions’ activities and quality. . . .

What are your views on the privatization and contracting out of public services, including school services and state and local government services?

BS: I am strongly opposed to the outsourcing and privatization of public services. The reality is that many private contractors provide jobs with low pay and no benefits with little or no training. It is not a surprise that initially these private contractors out-bid their government competitors because the federal government provides better pay, health care, pension benefits and quality training to their employees. But, in the long-term, in most instances, privatization leads to poor service, high turnover, and an overall increase in taxpayer dollars.

For example, on the state government level, the State of New Jersey thought they were going to save taxpayer dollars by privatizing their vehicle inspection program. What happened? According to a 2002 report, this program turned into a “mammoth boondoggle” that ended up costing taxpayers $247 million more than it would have cost if it were run by the state.

As President, I would do everything I could to reverse the privatization of public services and support the creation of more good-paying public sector jobs.

Current federal laws and policies encourage and promote collective bargaining through the National Labor Relations Act. What are your views on collective bargaining for the private and public sectors? What is your view regarding agency fee and so-called right-to-work laws?

BS: I am strongly supportive of collective bargaining for private and public sector workers. I am strongly opposed to agency fee and right-to-work laws.

I will fight to make sure that workers are allowed to join unions when a majority sign valid authorization cards stating that they want a union as their bargaining representative. This is not a radical idea. Card check recognition was the law of the land from 1941-1966.

Today, we have more wealth and income inequality in our country than at any time since 1928. There are lots of reasons for this.

The failure to raise the minimum wage is an obvious example. Unfettered free trade that forces American workers to compete against desperate workers in China, Mexico, and Vietnam is another.

But perhaps one of the most significant reasons for the decline in the middle class is that the rights of workers to join together and bargain collectively for better wages, benefits, and working conditions have been severely undermined. That will change under my Administration.

As president, what would you do to: (a) prevent employers from intimidating and harassing workers who support union representation, (b) ensure that workers are free to organize and bargain the workplace, and (c) protect the rights of American workers?

BS: I would strongly penalize employers that illegally fire or discriminate against workers for their union activity during an organizing or first contract drive.
Perhaps most importantly, we have got to make it easier for workers who win union elections to negotiate a first contract.

We also need to address the overtime scandal in this country in which millions of Americans are working 50 or 60 hours a week but fail to get time-and-a-half for their efforts. Four decades ago, more than 65 percent of the workforce qualified for time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. Today, that figure is down to just 11 percent. The threshold for overtime pay is now so low that it fails to cover middle class employees. Only workers who earn $23,660 a year currently qualify for overtime, which is below the poverty line for a family of four.

I would make sure that all workers who make up to $1,090 a week are allowed to receive time-and-a-half pay for working overtime. This would increase the take-home pay of millions of workers who are now making less than $57,000 a year.

Further, we need pay equity in this country so that women do not make 78 cents on the dollar compared to what a man makes for doing the same work. I am a proud co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act that would close the pay gap by empowering women to negotiate for equal pay, eliminate loopholes courts have created in the law, and create strong incentives for employers to obey the laws. . . .

Bernie Sanders’ complete responses to the AFT questionnaire can be found at:



One thought on “The AFT Questionnaire for Presidential Candidates: Bernie Sanders’ Responses

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.