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The grassroots network for union members aiming to secure labor endorsements for Senator Bernie Sanders, Labor for Bernie, held a conference call to an audience of 1,600 people on Wednesday night.
This is the first Labor for Bernie conference call since early September, when prepared remarks made by Sen. Sanders garnered 26,000 listeners as their candidate outlined his pro-worker platform. Since that call, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest and third-largest unions in the country, respectively, have endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Call host Rand Wilson, a Labor for Bernie volunteer who is also the communications director for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 888, mentioned this in the call.
“Some people on tonight’s call know that your union may have already made the endorsement for the other candidate,” says Wilson. “But regardless of any endorsement, the most important work right now is to keep building support for Sanders in your union at the local level.” Recently, numerous locals in the first-primary state of New Hampshire have endorsed Sanders, taking heed to what Wilson describes because of the candidates’ long history of pro-labor action.
“In 2008, Sen. Sanders was there when SEIU 560 was looking at potential layoffs. He helped us turn the pending layoffs around so they didn’t occur. Local 560 is forever grateful to Bernie for all the support over the years,” says SEIU Local 560 Secretary-Treasurer Susan Russell. Local 560 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 490 in New Hampshire endorsed Sen. Sanders in late October.
The American Postal Workers Union has also found Sanders’ support helpful. The Vermont senator has made consistent calls for an expansion of the postal service and has advocated for postal banking, amid calls for its privatization. The New Hampshire state-level APWU, as well as locals in Massachusetts and one in Philadelphia, have endorsed Sen. Sanders, as union activists have pressed for an endorsement from the national organization.
APWU President Mark Dimondstein told listeners, “We should judge candidates not by what they say, not by what we wish they said, not by what party they are affiliated with, but what they actually do — the difference between those who talk the talk and those who walk the walk. By using that criteria, Bernie Sanders has proven to be a champion of not only postal workers and postal unions but the public postal service itself.”
Bianca Cunningham, a former Verizon Wireless retail worker who alleges she was fired in retaliation for her union organizing in Brooklyn storefronts, said she was “thrilled” about Sen. Sanders’ active support for labor. On October 26, Sanders joined a picket line with Verizon workers, currently represented by the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and IBEW, who are in the middle of a contract dispute. Sen. Sanders also called for the Fortune 500 company to give Cunningham her job back.
“There are dozens of people running for President of the United States, but there is only one that walks a picket line, there’s only one who is not afraid to take on the corporate elite that is destroying good jobs and there is only one that isn’t taking money from Wall Street or from corporate America,” says Cunningham. “Working people have been hurt for far too long and we’ve been burned for far too long. It’s time for corporate America to ‘feel that Bern.”
Former CWA president Larry Cohen finished the call by decrying the fact that some question whether Sen. Sanders is electable against Clinton. Cohen cited a new poll released by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that has Sanders beating Republican frontrunners by larger margins of victory than Clinton to assert that Sanders is definitely electable.
Instead of asking if Sanders is a viable choice, Cohen told listeners of the Labor for Bernie call that the “real” questions are: “Are we fed up with business as usual? Are we tired of being on defense? Are ready to stand up for working people with a positive agenda for change?”
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Mario Vasquez is a writer from southern California. He is a regular contributor to Working In These Times. Follow him on Twitter @mario_vsqz.