In 1983, Bernie Sanders joined striking UE Local 258 workers from Cone-Blanchard Machine Co. in Windsor, Vermont. The workers were locked out of the factory as the union and company had not reached an agreement on their contract. And so began Bernie’s lifelong commitment to supporting union workers in their fight for fair wages, benefits, and basic health and safety on the job.
By the time the former Mayor of Burlington ran his first U.S. presidential campaign in 2016, the plight of workers nationwide would be in the national headlines daily as the divide grew between the working class and corporations. Those early years on local picket lines grew into support for workers taking on Amazon, Target, Starbucks, Disney and Walmart to successfully demand a minimum $15/hour wage, reasonable work hours, and benefits.
When his 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicked off in 2016, he addressed a crowd of union workers with his boldest message yet:
“We’re bringing people together to tell the ruling class of this country we are sick and tired of their greed,” Sanders, an independent, told the crowd. “And we’re not asking anymore, we are telling them enough is enough.”
Further along on the campaign trail he addressed union workers with a clear path forward: “If elected president of the United States, we are going to do everything that we can to rebuild the trade union movement in this country. Without a strong labor movement there will not be a strong middle class. We’re going to pass legislation that will make it easier for workers to join unions…If a company refuses to negotiate a first contract with that union, that company will be severely penalized. A lot of people don’t understand this, but when workers negotiate good contracts for their members it affects every worker in the community because wages go up for everybody. And in 25 years in Congress, I have a 98% AFL / CIO voting record. I am not a candidate who goes to the unions, goes to the workers, and then leaves and goes to a fundraiser with Wall Street. You are my family. And I have worked with unions my entire life. And with working people.That’s what this campaign is about. That’s what I’ve been about my whole life.”
“Enough is enough” was a rallying cry for America, eventually hitting a tipping point in the media and public consciousness. From taking a stand with workers at UE Local 258 to taking on the biggest corporations in the world, the Vermont Mayor would go on to make a difference in the lives of millions. By 2020, the message Bernie first delivered in the 1980s would take root, as “$15 minimum wage” became a recruiting tool for corporate HR departments such as Target. The fight continues to this day, but the seeds were planted. Bernie’s stubborn refusal to cave to corporations was just the example we needed to take the fight into the modern age.