”Denmark has no minimum-wage law. But Mr. Elofsson’s $20 an hour is the lowest
the fast-food industry can pay under an agreement between Denmark’s 3F
union, the nation’s largest, and the Danish employers group Horesta,
which includes Burger King, McDonald’s, Starbucks and other restaurant
and hotel companies.” New
York Times 10/28/2014
What Denmark does have – along with most of continental Europe and French
Canada and Argentina and Indonesia -- is a labor market setup called
centralized bargaining where every employee doing similar work (e.g.,
retail clerk) negotiates one common labor contract with all employers
doing similar business (e.g., Safeway, Best Buy, Walmart).
$20 an hour + benefits: it’s the centralized bargaining/truly-free market!
Supemarket workers (think Walmart gutted two-tier contracts) and
airline employees (think regional pilots making $500 a week) would kill
for centralized bargaining. The only practicable way to reunionize --
By Senator Bernie Sanders
May 26, 2013
Danish Ambassador Peter Taksoe-Jensen spent a weekend in
this month traveling with me to town meetings in Burlington,
Brattleboro and Montpelier. Large crowds came out to learn about a
social system very different from our own which provides
extraordinary security and opportunity for the people of
Today in the United States there is a massive amount of
anxiety. Unemployment is much too high, wages and income are too
low, millions of Americans are struggling to find affordable health
care and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing
While young working families search desperately for affordable
child care, older Americans worry about how they can retire with
dignity. Many of our people are physically exhausted as they work
the longest hours of any industrialized country and have far less
paid vacation time than other major countries.
Denmark is a small, homogenous nation of about 5.5 million
people. The United States is a melting pot of more than 315 million
people. No question about it, Denmark and the United States are
very different countries. Nonetheless, are there lessons that we
can learn from Denmark?
In Denmark, social policy in areas like health care, child
education and protecting the unemployed are part of a "solidarity
system" that makes sure that almost no one falls into economic
despair. Danes pay very high taxes, but in return enjoy a quality
of life that many Americans would find hard to believe. As the
ambassador mentioned, while it is difficult to become very rich in
Denmark no one is allowed to be poor. The minimum wage in Denmark
is about twice that of the United States and people who are totally
out of the labor market or unable to care for themselves have a
basic income guarantee of about $100 per day.
Health care in Denmark is universal, free of charge and high
quality. Everybody is covered as a right of citizenship. The Danish
health care system is popular, with patient satisfaction much
higher than in our country. In Denmark, every citizen can choose a
doctor in their area. Prescription drugs are inexpensive and free
for those under 18 years of age. Interestingly, despite their
universal coverage, the Danish health care system is far more
cost-effective than ours. They spend about 11 percent of their GDP
on health care. We spend almost 18 percent.
When it comes to raising families, Danes understand that the
first few years of a person's life are the most important in terms
of intellectual and emotional development. In order to give strong
support to expecting parents, mothers get four weeks of paid leave
before giving birth. They get another 14 weeks afterward. Expecting
fathers get two paid weeks off, and both parents have the right to
32 more weeks of leave during the first nine years of a child's
life. The state covers three-quarters of the cost of child care,
more for lower-income workers.
At a time when college education in the United States is
increasingly unaffordable and the average college graduate leaves
school more than $25,000 in debt, virtually all higher education in
Denmark is free. That includes not just college but graduate
schools as well, including medical school.
In a volatile global economy, the Danish government recognizes
that it must invest heavily in training programs so workers can
learn new skills to meet changing workforce demands. It also
understands that when people lose their jobs they must have
adequate income while they search for new jobs. If a worker loses
his or her job in Denmark, unemployment insurance covers up to 90
percent of earnings for as long as two years. Here benefits can be
cut off after as few as 26 weeks.
In Denmark, adequate leisure and family time are considered an
important part of having a good life. Every worker in Denmark is
entitled to five weeks of paid vacation plus 11 paid holidays. The
United States is the only major country that does not guarantee its
workers paid vacation time. The result is that fewer than half of
lower-paid hourly wage workers in our country receive any paid
Recently the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD) found that the Danish people rank among the
happiest in the world among some 40 countries that were studied.
America did not crack the top 10.
As Ambassador Taksoe-Jensen explained, the Danish social model
did not develop overnight. It has evolved over many decades and, in
general, has the political support of all parties across the
political spectrum. One of the reasons for that may be that the
Danes are, politically and economically, a very engaged and
informed people. In their last election, which lasted all of three
weeks and had no TV ads, 89 percent of Danes voted.
In Denmark, more than 75 percent of the people are members of
trade unions. In America today, as a result of the political and
economic power of corporate America and the billionaire class, we
are seeing a sustained and brutal attack against the economic
well-being of the American worker. As the middle class disappears,
benefits and guarantees that workers have secured over the last
century are now on the chopping block. Republicans, and too many
Democrats, are supporting cuts in Social Security, Medicare,
Medicaid, nutrition, education, and other basic needs -- at the
same time as the very rich become much richer. Workers' rights, the
ability to organize unions, and the very existence of the National
Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are now under massive assault.
In the U.S. Senate today, my right-wing colleagues talk a lot
about "freedom" and limiting the size of government. Here's what
they really mean.
They want ordinary Americans to have the freedom NOT to have
health care in a country where 45,000 of our people die each year
because they don't get to a doctor when they should. They want
young people in our country to have the freedom NOT to go to
college, and join the 400,000 young Americans unable to afford a
higher education and the millions struggling with huge college
debts. They want children and seniors in our country to have the
freedom NOT to have enough food to eat, and join the many millions
who are already hungry. And on and on it goes!
In Denmark, there is a very different understanding of what
"freedom" means. In that country, they have gone a long way to
ending the enormous anxieties that comes with economic insecurity.
Instead of promoting a system which allows a few to have enormous
wealth, they have developed a system which guarantees a strong
minimal standard of living to all -- including the children, the
elderly and the disabled.
The United States, in size, culture, and the diversity of our
population, is a very different country from Denmark. Can we,
however, learn some important lessons from them? You bet we