PHILADELPHIA – Ahead of a major address to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO’s annual convention, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday called on Verizon to negotiate a fair contract with workers in the region and addressed the devastation unfettered free trade has brought to the state.
“Verizon wants to take American jobs – call center jobs – out of this country and bring them abroad where people will be paid pennies an hour. That is unacceptable,” said Sanders, who was flanked by members of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “We are going to have to deal with this corporate greed, which is more concerned with compensation packages for CEOs than about the needs of hard working people who want nothing more than to be able to live in dignity and security and bring their kids up in a decent way.”
Both CWA and the IBEW are locked in contract negotiations with Verizon. The company, which books profits of over $1 billion a month, is demanding that workers take pay cuts and reduce health benefits or see their jobs shipped overseas.
Unfortunately, that choice is familiar for too many workers in Pennsylvania.
The North American Free Trade Agreement cost 850,000 good-paying jobs in the United States, including 26,300 in Pennsylvania. Normalized trade relations with China led to the loss of 3.2 million jobs including 122,600 in Pennsylvania. Sanders opposed both agreements while Secretary Clinton supported them.
During the news conference, Sanders cited examples of how bad trade deals have hurt Pennsylvania. In 2013, General Electric announced that it would eliminate 950 jobs at its Pennsylvania locomotive plant in Erie moving many of these jobs to Mexico.
Allegheny Technologies shut down two steel plants in western Pennsylvania last year, laying off 600 workers due to a surge in cheap imports from China.
Hershey in 2009 shut down its York Peppermint Patties plant in Reading. Three-hundred jobs were lost when the plant was moved to Monterrey, Mexico, where workers are paid a fraction of what they were paid in Pennsylvania.
Sony closed the last television manufacturing plant in the United States in 2008 when it closed a Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, plant that employed 560 workers and moved the plant to Baja, Mexico. Sanders has a consistent record in Congress fighting job-killing trade deals.
In Congress, he has led opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal that Clinton, as secretary of state, called the “gold standard” for trade agreements.
Clinton recently signaled that she might seek modifications in the pact, but Sanders has said that’s not enough. He’s pledged to rewrite the worst trade deals of the last 30 years, including NAFTA. Sanders will also impose countervailing tariffs on imports from China and Japan until they stop dumping steel into the United States and stop manipulating their currencies.
Pennsylvania voters go to the polls on April 26 to decide how the state will allocate its 189 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer in Philadelphia.