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Top Three Dems Now Refuse To Cross Picket Line For Debate

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The Democratic frontrunners for the presidential nomination have all announced that they will forgo CBS News' upcoming presidential debate unless the network can reach a resolution with its employees who have authorized a strike.

Speaking earlier in the day, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, declared that: "The workers at CBS News have been without a contract for close to two and a half years. It is my hope that both sides will reach an agreement that results in a secure contract for the workers at CBS News but let me be clear: I will honor the picket line if the workers at CBS News decide to strike."

Hours later, her chief opponent for the nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL, weighed in as well, issuing the following statement through his campaign: "If CBS News is unable to reach an agreement with its workers and they decide to strike, Barack Obama will not cross the picket line to attend the debate."

Finally, former Sen. John Edwards, D-NC, offered his support for the strikers, declaring that he and his wife Elizabeth "will also honor any picket lines at CBS News, up to and including the CBS presidential debate on December 10th... I hope that in these disputes, management and the union are able to agree on a just settlement. But until those settlements are reached, I will stand firmly with these workers in their fight for a better life."

The refusals of the top three candidates to attend the debate if a strike is in progress is the strongest statements yet in support of the writers.

CBS News is slated to host its first Democratic debate on December 10 at the network's Los Angeles studios. Last week, however, approximately three-fourths of CBS News' 500 employees (writers, desk assistants, graphic artists, and assignment editors, mostly) voted to authorize a strike. Employees at the news station have been without a contract since April 2, 2005 and have scheduled a negotiating committee to meet on the situation following the Thanksgiving break.

Three weeks ago, the entertainment and screenwriters of the Writers Guild of America (which also covers CBS News employees), began a strike of their own, after negotiations on a new contract for the union's 10,500 members hit an impasse. These members of WGA are seeking a percentage of the retail price of movies and television episodes downloaded on Internet; something to which the studios have yet to agree.

Democratic presidential candidates have made the strike a forum for demonstrating their pro-labor credentials. This past Friday, Edwards joined the picket lines at NBC's studios in Burbank, proclaiming that the WGA Strike was a "fight for justice." Today, Edwards, along with Clinton and Obama went even further in expressing their solidarity.

"America's unions are the backbone of America's middle class and I will always stand with America's working men and women in the fight to ensure that they are able to earn a fair wage," Clinton said.

Update: Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has offered his support for the strikers as well, saying in a statement, "Supporting workers' rights is more important than anything I will say at the debate."