Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders paid an impromptu visit to a Verizon workers' picket line in Brooklyn on Wednesday after being endorsed by New York City transit workers as he tried to wrest a bit of union support from rival Hillary Clinton.
The Brooklyn-born Sanders addressed an enthusiastic crowd of striking workers from Verizon Communications Inc as "brothers and sisters" and thanked them for their courage in standing up to what he characterized as corporate greed.
It was a scene tailor-made for the U.S. senator from Vermont, who has focused on income inequality in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sanders is trying to catch up with Clinton, the front-runner, in Tuesday's primary in New York, a state both candidates have called home.
Workers cheered as Sanders criticized the mammoth communications company for wanting to take away health benefits, outsource jobs and avoid federal income taxes, calling it "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 ... and you’re telling corporate America that they cannot have it all," Sanders said.
Nearly 40,000 Verizon employees walked off the job on Wednesday in one of the largest U.S. strikes in recent years after contract talks hit an impasse.
While Sanders whipped up the crowd of hundreds in Brooklyn, Clinton's campaign issued a statement criticizing Verizon for wanting to outsource more jobs and urging the company to go back to the bargaining table.
"To preserve and grow America's middle class, we need to protect good wages and benefits, including retirement security," Clinton said. "And we should be doing all we can to keep good-paying jobs with real job security in New York."
Earlier, Clinton won the backing of a local unit, representing more than 27,000 area workers, of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, one of the unions involved in the Verizon strike.
Sanders has championed the rights of working-class Americans, including a proposed $15 federal minimum wage, in daily campaign speeches targeting corporate greed.
Yet Clinton has racked up support from unions representing the majority of organized labor, a crucial base of support for the Democratic Party.
They include influential unions such as the AFSCME, a public employees union with 1.6 million members, and the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, which has about 2 million members in a variety of professions.
In what was widely viewed as a win for Sanders, the AFL-CIO, the country's largest labor union federation, in February declined to endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary.
(Additional reporting by Brian Snyder; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)