Nader walks picket line, courting union vote

FALLS CHURCH, Va. - Green Party presidential hopeful Ralph Nader walked the picket line with striking telephone workers Thursday, looking for votes and unconcerned that the strikers' union already has endorsed Al Gore.

''I think that's to be expected,'' said Nader, who lent his support Thursday to Communication Workers of America employees on strike against Verizon. ''At the rank-and-file level, it's open competition ... The other candidates will not even talk about these issues.''

Those issues include federal labor law and corporate influence on public policy. Nader has made them centerpieces of his campaign.

Meanwhile, the Nader campaign was set to unveil a new position paper on tort reform, calling for changes to make it easier for consumers to sue corporations and win damages.

Nader blamed both Republicans and Democrats for the current trend in tort reform, making it more difficult to sue. Such legislation is ''little more than a bailout from liability and responsibility for corporations at the expense of all citizens,'' Nader said in the paper, being released Friday.

On the picket line, Nader said Democrats and Republicans are both to blame for putting corporate interests above public interest, but he was far more critical of Republican candidate George W. Bush than of Gore.

Asked why the other candidates weren't joining strikers' picket lines, Nader was incredulous.

''George W. Bush on a picket line, are you kidding? He's a corporate conglomerate walking around as a person,'' he said. Gore, on the other hand, was merely busy preparing for the upcoming party convention.

Strikers all said they consider labor issues important in the presidential campaign, although none expressed dissatisfaction with the vice president.

Jim Hilleary, president of CWA Local 222, which represents about 2,200 workers in northern Virginia, was quick to point out that Gore had the union's endorsement.

''We appreciate that Ralph Nader is coming by,'' Hilleary said. ''But Al Gore has been in the fight for us for years and years.''

Other picketers said they want to hear more about labor issues from all the candidates.

''I'm looking for whoever is going to back us,'' said Jim Oswalt, an engineering assistant from Alexandria. ''I haven't been following the race too closely, but I haven't heard much about unions.''

Nader insisted his message will resonate with workers once they hear it. Federal law, he said, has hindered union membership, which now stands at 9 percent of all private workers.

Union workers ''are looking for a candidate who will take a strong stand on these issues,'' Nader said.

The Gore campaign did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Thursday.


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