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Bernie Sanders Plans To Join A Verizon Picket Line

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 26/10/2015 Dave Jamieson
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In a rare move for a major presidential candidate, Democratic hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) plans to join a picket line with Verizon workers in New York City on Monday, according to one of his advisers.

The decision to single out a major U.S. corporation by joining a worker protest is unusual for a serious presidential contender in the midst of a campaign. Sanders' camp believes the last major Democratic candidate to do so would have been Jesse Jackson in 1988.

"This is what we should demand of candidates who say they're for working people -- that they take a stand and that they're proud to do it," said Larry Cohen, the Sanders adviser. Cohen previously served as the longtime president of the Communications Workers of America union.

Nearly 40,000 Verizon employees represented by CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are currently in a major contract battle with Verizon. CWA has also accused the telecom giant of retaliating against Verizon Wireless store employees who are union activists, charges that the company has denied. 

Monday's protest is planned to take place at a Verizon Wireless store in midtown Manhattan, Cohen said. Verizon, which owns The Huffington Post, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While it may be unusual for a presidential candidate to join a picket line, it isn't unusual for the self-described democratic socialist from Vermont. Last year, before he declared his presidential bid, Sanders walked a picket line with workers at the telecom company FairPoint Communications, where 1,700 employees represented by IBEW were on strike in New England.

In a blog post at The Huffington Post on Monday, Cohen quoted from a message Sanders sent to Verizon employees in August, shortly before their contract expired: "I am hopeful you will reach a fair contract. But if you run into roadblocks, as in years past, know that I will be there with you until a fair contract is negotiated."

Sanders' long-running, vocal support for organized labor helps explain his appeal to many rank-and-file union members during the primary, even as frontrunner Hillary Clinton picks up more endorsements from establishment labor unions. Both candidates have placed economic inequality at the core of their campaigns as they seek the nomination, though it's much harder to imagine Clinton walking a picket line aimed at a telecom giant.

"Bernie believes that working people are key -- their standard of living, their jobs -- to what kind of economy we're going to have," Cohen said. "And that needs to be front and center and not something you get into obliquely."

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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