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By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The Communication Workers of America (CWA) union endorsed U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential race on Thursday, a move that could bolster his campaign in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

CWA President Chris Shelton said the decision to back Sanders, a Democratic socialist, over party front-runner Hillary Clinton came after a three-month process driven by the union’s rank-and-file members rather than its leadership.

“They voted decisively for Bernie Sanders,” Shelton said in a press conference in Washington. “The executive board stayed out of this.”

The CWA, which has 700,000 members, is the third national union to endorse Sanders, after the American Postal Workers Union and National Nurses United.

Clinton has the backing of 18 national unions or alliances that collectively represent more than 11 million workers. Roughly 14.6 million workers – about 11.1 percent of the workforce – are union members, according to U.S. government data.

“Hillary Clinton is humbled to have such tremendous support from labor unions who represent a diverse coalition of millions,” said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the former secretary of state’s campaign.

Though the U.S. labor movement has shrunk in recent years, union activists are often crucial foot soldiers for Democratic candidates, willing to put in long hours to knock on doors and help register people to vote.

While acknowledging that Clinton may be able to raise more campaign money than him using Super PAC political groups, which he has pledged to avoid, Sanders said individual contributions and the CWA’s manpower could help him in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Democrats will hold their first nominating contest in Iowa on Feb. 1, followed by one in New Hampshire about a week later.

“That’s a lot more important than a 30-second TV ad and that’s what the CWA brings to the table and that’s why I’m appreciative of their support,” Sanders said at the same press conference.

“The CWA will do everything possible, every single thing possible,” Shelton said, referring to its support of Sanders.

Larry Cohen, a former CWA president, acts as a labor liaison to the Sanders campaign.

(Additional reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters during an off the schedule campaign stop at Portsmouth Book and Bar in Portsmouth, New Hampshire December 15, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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