Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders matched his rhetoric about wealth inequality with action Monday when he joined about 200 Verizon workers rallying in New York City. The union picket, which was organized by the Communication Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, came as part of a monthslong contract battle with Verizon, MSNBC reported.
“Let me get to the point,” Sanders told an enthusiastic crowd. “The middle class in this country is disappearing, and what Verizon is doing to their workers is exactly what has got to be fought if we are going to rebuild the American middle class.”
Union leaders have been negotiating with the communications giant since it proposed a new contract in June, but employees say the company is undermining their job security and trying to raise their healthcare contributions and alter their pension structure. That CWA also charges that Verizon unfairly fired a Brooklyn employee, Bianca Cunningham, for "supporting a bullied worker."
— Nick Hoh (@NicholasHoh) October 26, 2015
Verizon has denied firing workers for union activity -- which is illegal -- and Rich Young, a spokesman for the company, told MSNBC it wants to work with union leaders to reach a deal.
“Unfortunately, while we’ve worked hard in trying to meet that goal, week after week union leaders issue a myriad of distracting mischaracterizations, distorted facts and innuendo,” Young said. “These PR stunts do nothing to help advance the bargaining process. Verizon remains ready to hold serious discussions and engage in meaningful negotiations that will result in a fair and balanced agreement.”
The contract, which covers 39,000 workers, expired in August, and employees have been working without a contract as negotiations continue. It is unusual for a presidential candidate to take a stand against a large company such as Verizon, but not for Sanders. Last year, the Vermont senator picketed with workers at FairPoint Communications in Vermont when 1,7000 employees represented by IBEW were on strike, according to the Huffington Post.
Sanders is competing with Hillary Clinton for labor support in the 2016 campaign, and the former secretary of state has already snagged several key union endorsements. The CWA has not yet endorsed a candidate for president, but Sanders is no doubt hoping his public solidarity will help him get more union support. He trails Clinton 25 percent to 48 percent in the Real Clear Politics national polling average in the Democratic presidential race, but continues to see lots of support at the grassroots level.
— MaryAlice Parks (@maryaliceparks) October 26, 2015
— CWA District 1 (@CWADistrict1) October 26, 2015
Dennis Trainor, vice president of CWA District 1, told MSNBC Monday that the union, which represents 600,000 workers, was currently polling members on which candidate it should endorse for president. He said Clinton “was very good, but she hasn’t shown up at any of our rallies yet.”