NEW YORK, N.Y. – Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders cheered on striking Verizon workers Wednesday after 39,000 landline and cable employees walked off the job.
Sanders told workers at a picket line in Brooklyn they displayed courage by standing up to the telecommunications giant.
“I know your families are going to pay a price,” Sanders shouted. “On behalf of every worker in America who is facing the same kind of pressure, thank you for what you’re doing. We’re going to win this thing!”
Sanders’ rival, Hillary Clinton, said in a statement earlier Wednesday she was “disappointed” that negotiations had broken down between Verizon and its unions.
“Verizon should come back to the bargaining table with a fair offer for their workers,” Clinton said. “To preserve and grow America’s middle class, we need to protect good wages and benefits, including retirement security.”
Later, Clinton met striking communications workers outside a Verizon store in midtown Manhattan.
The two striking unions, the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, represent installers, customer service employees, repairmen and other service workers in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., for Verizon’s wireline business, which provides fixed-line phone services and FiOS Internet service.
Verizon spokesman Rich Young said the company was disappointed by the strike. He said Verizon has trained thousands of nonunion workers to fill in for striking workers and “we will be there for our customers.”
But some customers said the strike was affecting them.
Jennifer Aguirre, 27, said she and her husband had an appointment scheduled for Wednesday to install cable and Internet at their home in Washington. Her husband called to confirm and was told that systems were down and the appointment was cancelled.
“We’re kind of stuck, waiting to see what’s going to happen,” Aguirre said. She said Verizon is the couple’s only option for home Internet service.
Keith Purce, president of CWA Local 1101 in New York City, said the unions have been without a contract for eight months.
Between 300 and 400 union members walked a picket line outside the company’s office in downtown Albany, where workers set up an inflatable “greedy pig” and rat.
In Philadelphia, about a hundred striking workers took to the streets near the company’s regional headquarters and chanted, “Scabs, go home!” at nonunion replacement workers.
The unions say Verizon wants to freeze pensions, make layoffs easier and rely more on contract workers. The company has said that health care issues need to be addressed for retirees and current workers because medical costs have grown and that it wants “greater flexibility” to manage its workers.
Verizon also is pushing to eliminate a rule that would prevent employees from working away from home for extended periods of time. In a television ad, the unions said the company was trying to “force employees to accept a contract sending their jobs to other parts of the country and even oversees.”
“The main issues are job security and that they want to move workers miles and miles away,” said Isaac Collazo, a Verizon employee who has worked replacing underground cables in New York City for nearly 19 years.
“We have a clause currently that they can’t just lay anyone off willy nilly and they want to get rid of that,” said Collazo, a single father of three children. “I feel if the company had the opportunity, they would just lay people off.”
But Young said the unions’ talk about offshoring jobs and cutting jobs is “absolute nonsense.”
“These contracts have provisions that were put in place decades ago. … They need to take a look at where the business stands in 2016,” he said.
Some 45,000 Verizon workers went on strike for about two weeks in August 2011.
Verizon Communications Inc. has a total workforce of more than 177,000 employees.
Associated Press writers Ula Ilnytzky and Tali Arbel in New York, Shawn Marsh in Trenton, New Jersey, and Chris Carola in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.