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Sanders hitches campaign to fights against GE and Verizon

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally, April 12, in Rochester, N.Y. (Mel Evans/AP)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — On Monday, before he addressed close to 10,000 people at a college basketball arena in Buffalo, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont made a quick stop at a union hall. Local shop stewards with the Communications Workers of America had just sat down, and had plowed through a meal of pizza and wings, when the candidate walked in and hugged an organizer he'd known for years. He was there to endorse their planned strike.

"I know that going on strike is not something that’s easily done," Sanders said. "I know there’s going to be a lot of pain involved. I want to thank you for standing up to the outrageous greed of Verizon and corporate America. When you do that, you’re not just standing up for your own members — you’re standing up for working people all over this country."

Nearly 40,000 Verizon workers on the East Coast have planned a strike that begins at 6 a.m. Wednesday; Sanders, who had been endorsed by the CWA, was once again hitching his campaign to a labor movement cause. He'd joined picket lines outside factories, addressed minimum-wage hike campaigners outside debates, and — multiple times — endorsed Verizon workers (part of the CWA) who were negotiating for a new contract.

"What you are saying is that at a time when multinational corporations are making record profits, they should not be demanding cutbacks in workers’ health care, in workers’ pensions or workers’ wages," Sanders said in Buffalo. "And they sure as hell should not be sending calling centers to the Philippines and other countries."

The candidate said much the same thing at the rally; on short notice, former CWA president Larry Cohen was also moved up the schedule of speakers to tell the crowd about the Verizon fight.

Sanders continued pounding Verizon at a rally Tuesday morning in Rochester (billed as a "town hall" but featuring no Q and A), and linked the Verizon fight to his ongoing debate with GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt.

Bernie Sanders comments on striking Verizon workers and directly addresses an op-ed written by General Electric CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt. (Video: Reuters)

"Nobody goes out on strike without a lot of thought, because there's a lot of pain going on in families when you don't have any income coming in," said Sanders. "They're going out on strike because they refuse to be beaten down by a greedy corporation who could care less about them or the people of this country. All they want is more and more profit, and it doesn't matter what happens to their employees or people in America. This is what they want to do: They want to cut benefits for their employees. They want to put American workers out onto the street and move their calling centers to low-wage countries around the world."

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Turning to Immelt's criticism, which appeared first in a Washington Post op-ed, Sanders seemed to relish the attention on an issue that can get lost in the gaffes and react-quote tumult of the campaign.

"I say to Mr. Immelt: If you continue to downsize in America, to outsource our jobs to low-wage countries around the world; if you continue to do your best to avoid paying taxes in the United States of America, you will have to contend with me if I'm elected president," said Sanders, his last words being nearly drowned out by cheers.

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