- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

As his campaign moves left and engages in direct battles with leading U.S. corporations, Sen. Bernard Sanders joined Verizon workers on the picket line Wednesday and later found himself in a harsh war of words with the company CEO, who called the senator’s views on American business “contemptible.”

The fight comes as Mr. Sanders prepares for a high-stakes Brooklyn debate Thursday night with presidential rival Hillary Clinton — who also expressed strong support for striking Verizon employees — as the two candidates barrel toward next week’s crucial New York primary election.

Ahead of that debate, Mr. Sanders has been campaigning almost nonstop across the Empire State in recent days and used Wednesday’s appearance with disgruntled Verizon workers to continue pushing what’s become his central campaign theme — that U.S. corporations are greedy and are profiting off the backs of virtually defenseless employees.

“I know what a difficult decision it is to go out on a strike, and I know your families are going to pay a price for going out on a strike,” the senator said as he stood with the employees. “But you have chosen to stand up for dignity, for justice and to take on an enormously powerful special interest.”

Nearly 40,000 Verizon workers went on strike this week after negotiations with the company broke down. The employees say they’re fighting for better wages and protections against Verizon’s attempt to ship jobs overseas.

Verizon maintains it wants to renegotiate health care contract provisions and also seeks to consolidate some call centers and other facilities.

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Hours after Mr. Sanders bashed the company, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam fired back.

In a LinkedIn post Wednesday afternoon, Mr. McAdam disputed Mr. Sanders‘ accusation that the company wants to slash worker wages. He also said the senator is dead wrong when he claims Verizon doesn’t pay its fair share of taxes, saying the company ponied up $15.6 billion and was subject to a 35 percent tax rate over the last two years.

“The senator’s uninformed views are, in a word, contemptible,” Mr. McAdam said. “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.”

The dust-up is the latest in a series of fights between Mr. Sanders and leading U.S. companies. The senator also has gone after General Electric, among others, and has accused top firms of dodging their tax bills, making products overseas and not taking care of their employees.

For her part, Mrs. Clinton also came out in support of the Verizon workers.

“We rely on these men and women as part of the communications that keeps businesses and our economy moving. Verizon should do the right thing and return to negotiations,” she said in a statement Wednesday morning.

The White House would not weigh in on the Verizon dispute.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sanders likely will shift his fire from Verizon to Mrs. Clinton at Thursday night’s debate in Brooklyn, the last scheduled debate between the Democratic candidates.

The forum is the senator’s best chance to cut into Mrs. Clinton’s sizable lead in New York, where Democrats will go to the polls April 19. All surveys show the former secretary of state with a double-digit lead, and a big win in New York would crush Mr. Sanders‘ momentum and potentially signal the beginning of the end of the Democratic primary.

Political analysts say Mr. Sanders is sure to be on the offensive Thursday night.

“Bernie Sanders has been reserved in all the debates to this point, but now that this is the last debate, he might venture into some negative territory and say, ‘These are the reasons people shouldn’t support Hillary Clinton,” said Ben Voth, a communications and public affairs professor at Southern Methodist University who specializes in political debates. “In his campaign speeches the past month, he’s been more aggressive and negative toward her. I think we’re seeing the frustration of winning eight of the last nine primaries, yet still being dismissed next to the inevitability of Hillary Clinton.”

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