Nevada’s Powerful Culinary Union Won’t Endorse Before Caucus

February 14, 2020 by Dan McCue

Nevada’s powerful Culinary Workers Union, an early force in propelling Sen. Barack Obama toward the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, said Thursday it will not endorse a candidate ahead of the state’s February 22 caucuses.

“We’re going to endorse our goals, what we’re doing — that’s what we’re going to endorse,” said  Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, during an afternoon news conference in Las Vegas.

The decision not to pick a candidate just days after the union lambasted “Medicare for All,” a central policy plank of Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., appears to create an opening for Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, two moderate Democrats.

The announcement was something of a disappointment for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who had hoped his opposition to “Medicare for all” and years-long ties to organized labor would win him its support and a boost in the state’s upcoming caucuses.

Instead, Argüello-Kline said the union would pursue three goals: seeking a living wage for all workers, preserving health care, and reforming the immigration system.

And while the union is sitting out the caucuses from an endorsement perspective, she said in the general election the union’s foremost goal will be defeating President Trump.

The Culinary Workers Union, or UNITE HERE Local 226, represents 60,000 hotel and restaurant workers in Las Vegas casinos, and claims to be the largest immigrant organization, with a membership representing 178 countries and speaking over 40 different languages.

The union boasts the state’s largest grassroots organizing force, with 350 workers phone banking and canvassing in the 2018 midterms.

In recent days the union has criticized Medicare for All, telling members that a single-payer, government-run health plan would force members off the union’s health trust fund that provides coverage for 130,000 workers and their families.

“Presidential candidates suggesting forcing millions of hard working people to give up their health care creates unnecessary division between workers, and will give us four more years of Trump,” the union said in an English- and Spanish-language one-page leaflet that went to workers.

That stance has put the union at odds with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, whose supporters responded angrily to the distribution of the fliers.

Argüello-Kline said in a statement on Wednesday that supporters of Sanders had “viciously attacked” union members, and that the group was simply trying to share “facts on what certain health care proposals might do to take away the system of care we have built over eight decades.” 

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