NEW YORK, N.Y. – Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders waded into a labour dispute involving Verizon on Monday, urging the telecommunications giant to negotiate a fair contract for 39,000 members of the Communications Workers of America.
The Democratic presidential candidate joined Verizon workers at a demonstration outside a Verizon Wireless store near Times Square. He also defended a union official who says she was fired after organizing Verizon Wireless stores in Brooklyn.
“You’ve got corporate America making huge profits, their CEOs getting huge compensation packages, and then with all of their money what they do is hire lawyers in order to make it harder for workers to survive in this country,” Sanders told a crowd of more than 100 people outside the Verizon store as onlookers and passers-by watched.
Sanders made the union push as Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton has picked up the endorsements of several major labour unions, including the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union last Friday.
The independent senator also met privately with the New York-based SEIU 1199, union officials confirmed. Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected to meet with leaders of SEIU 1199, a local health care workers union, on Tuesday. George Gresham, 1199’s president, said in a statement the meetings “are part of our regular process as we consider making an endorsement decision.”
That local union has long been a powerful force in New York politics and the meetings come as the national Service Employees International Union, which represents 2 million workers, is considering whether to endorse in the presidential campaign.
Sanders has cited his support among many rank-and-file union workers and advocated for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, a single-payer health care system and recently drafted legislation to make it easier for workers to join unions.
During the demonstration, he called upon Verizon to negotiate with the workers and spoke in support of Bianca Cunningham, saying companies should not be able to “fire workers like Bianca.” Cunningham has said she was fired for standing up for her rights to organize.
Sanders was introduced at the rally by former Communications Workers of America president Larry Cohen, a volunteer adviser to the senator’s campaign. CWA, which represents 700,000 workers, has not yet endorsed in the race.
Verizon spokesman Rich Young said the CWA’s contentions about Cunningham were “flat-out wrong” and the company has not targeted Cunningham “or any other employee for the union-related activities.”
He said Verizon hoped to reach “a solid contract that’s fair to our employees, our customers and recognizes the dramatically changing state of our wireline business.” He said union leaders have issued “a myriad of distracting mischaracterizations, distorted facts and innuendo.”
Thomas reported from Washington.
On Twitter, follow Ken Thomas at https://twitter.com/KThomasDC and Deepti Hajela at https://twitter.com/dhajela.