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Sanders, Clinton join picket lines, fight for union support

Nearly 40,000 Verizon employees walked off the job on Wednesday in one of the country's largest strikes in years

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 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."

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"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.

Among Democrats and independents who belong to a labor union, 50 percent support Clinton and 36 percent back Sanders, according to a Reuters/Ipsos national poll in March.

In comparison, Clinton and Sanders have been about even in the poll among all Democrats and independents. The poll from March 1 to March 31 included 780 people who said they were Democrats or independents and belonged to a labor union. It had a credibility interval of 4 percentage points.

Nearly 40,000 Verizon employees went on strike on Wednesday in one of the largest U.S. walkouts in recent years after contract talks hit an impasse.

'STANDING UP FOR MILLIONS OF AMERICANS'

"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 told the striking workers.

Verizon Chief Executive Officer Lowell McAdam accused Sanders of getting the facts wrong and oversimplifying the situation, dismissing the candidate's views as "contemptible." The company has to adapt to competition and technology, but still provides good jobs and benefits to thousands, he said in a statement.

Sanders fired back on Twitter at McAdam and General Electric Co <GE.N> Chief Executive Jeff Immelt, who criticized Sanders in an opinion article last week.

"I don’t want the support of McAdam, Immelt and their friends in the billionaire class," Sanders wrote. "I welcome their contempt."

While Sanders whipped up the crowd 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 in the day, Sanders announced the endorsement of Transport Workers Union Local 100, representing 42,000 workers in the New York City area.

Clinton, meanwhile, 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. The other union involved in the strike, the Communications Workers of America, has endorsed Sanders for president.

Other influential unions that have backed Clinton include 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.

Sanders also won his first endorsement from a fellow U.S. senator, Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon, on Wednesday, while Clinton was endorsed by New York's Daily News, which called her a "superprepared warrior realist."

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