Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) reaffirmed his commitment to supporting American workers when he joined the Verizon picket line as nearly 40,000 union workers turned out to protest the communications juggernaut. The combined members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) are furious at Verizon’s plans to “make devastating cut backs,” increasing job insecurity, refusing to negotiate”improvements to wages, benefits and working conditions,” freezing pensions, and demanding that technicians work away from home for months on end, destabilizing the home lives of their workers.
Showing solidarity with organized labor, Sanders joined their picket lines and spoke at the offices of Transit Workers Union Local 100, slamming the notorious tax-evaders at Verizon for their refusal to treat their workers properly. “We all know in this room that you don’t have a great and growing middle class unless you have a great and growing trade union movement. And it is no secret that there have been fierce attacks against the trade union movement for the last number of decades, and in fact, you could argue that it is the trade unions of today that are the last lines of defense against a vicious corporate agenda that is working hard to destroy the middle class!
This is just another major American corporation trying to destroy the lives of working Americans. Today you are standing up not just for justice for Verizon workers, you’re standing up for millions of Americans who don’t have a union!”
The CEO of Verizon, Lowell McAdam, promptly threw a tantrum, calling Sanders “contemptible” and accusing him of making Verizon a political boogeyman: “I understand that rhetoric gets heated in a Presidential campaign. I also get that big companies are an easy target for candidates looking for convenient villains for the economic distress felt by many of our citizens. But when rhetoric becomes disconnected from reality, we’ve crossed a dangerous line. We deserve better from people aspiring to be President. At the very least, we should demand that candidates base their arguments on the facts … even when they don’t fit their campaign narratives.”
Such an outpouring of crocodile tears from the very definition of a corporate oligarch is to be expected. Of course, he has failed to mention that Verizon’s profits have been growing rapidly over the past few years while benefits for workers remain stagnant. The Intercept reports that Verizon’s revenue rose “from $120.6 billion in 2013 to $131.6 billion in 2015. Operating cash flow last year was at $38.9 billion. McAdam’s own compensation rose 16 percent from 2013 to 2014, topping out at $18.3 million.”
Today’s strike and the condescending response to it proves just why America’s unions are so important for a healthy middle class and for keeping corporate greed in check. The model used by multinational corporations of “accept it or get another job” is disrespectful, unproductive, and clearly indicative that shareholder profits are more important than the well-being of their workers. The alienation of the American worker must come to an end.
A line must be drawn; the American worker deserves the right to earn fair wages for reasonable work, to have personal time to spend with their families and to develop themselves as a citizen. If that means cutting into the paychecks of obscenely wealthy oligarchs, so be it.
CORRECTION: Senator Sanders has been endorsed by the New York Transit Workers Union, and spoke there before joining the strike. The striking unions are the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America.
Watch Sanders speak here:
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.