How does the Culinary Union get face time with the three highest-polling Democratic presidential candidates in the same week?
Easy -- the bargaining collective for Nevada’s massive hospitality industry is one of the most politically powerful groups in the state.
Over three consecutive days, the Union is hosting separate town halls for Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and Vice President Joe Biden.
“This is very important for the Unite Here Culinary Union to meet with the candidates… because we have an opportunity to listen and we can talk to them about the issues that are affecting working families,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the secretary-treasurer for Culinary Workers Union, Local 226.
The town halls will be moderated by D Taylor, the president of Unite Here. Taylor was a labor organizer in Las Vegas until he moved to a national role.
Arguello-Kline said the format will allow union members to ask important questions of the candidates and talk to them about the issues impacting their lives.
One of the most important issues is health care. Currently, the Culinary Union has one of the most robust health care plans in the state. But, two of the top Democratic candidates -- Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders -- have both supported eliminating private health care and replacing it with Medicare for All.
“We want everybody to have health care, but it is very, very important to us to keep our health care because it’s a quality health care ... but we’ve been through a lot of sacrifice,” Arguello-Kline said.
She pointed out that the union fought very hard to get the kind of healthcare package that members and their families get.
So far, the union hasn't endorsed anyone for president.
But Hugh Jackson, editor of the Nevada Current, told KNPR's State of Nevada that not endorsing someone but putting healthcare as a top priority is saying something.
"Even by not endorsing, by making this issue at the top of their list, it is perhaps a de facto, at least, nod towards [Joe] Biden," Jackson said.
Biden doesn't support the Medicare-for-All option but he does support reforms to health care.
Jackson said the problem for the candidates is not appealing to the Culinary Union members but to workers who are not members and don't like their health care.
“This, to me, raises a very interesting question for the candidates as they come in and pay tribute to the Culinary this week in these meetings is they want to appease the Culinary,” he said.
In the 1950s, a large portion of private-sector workers opted for union membership, but that influence has waned over time. Now, Nevada is one of the only states where unions play a larger role, Jackson said.
“Las Vegas doesn’t often recognize just how unique the Culinary is, and how unique it is to have a labor union that has such deep penetration into a primary industry as the Culinary has into the resort industry in Las Vegas,” he said.
The Culinary Union wants a candidate who supports organized labor nationally -- not just in Nevada.
“We want presidential candidates who support unions and support the working class to be middle-class because we here in Las Vegas, we’ve been able to keep middle-class wages and we’ve been able to keep the health care. We’ve been able to keep a pension, where people can retire with dignity, buy their homes, give education to their kids and feel that one job [is] enough,” she said.
When the Democratic Party does decide on a nominee for president, Arguello-Kline said the union will be out in force to get that person elected over President Donald Trump.
“We know in 2020 we need to have a leader who takes care of this country and pulls this country together and the division stops,” she said.
Jackson said the Culinary Union will use its organizational structure to get out the vote no matter what.
“I would like to know what it’s going to take to not get them to vote in 2020. They are going to be very eager to get to the polls and vote out Donald Trump. So are a lot of other workers in Nevada who don’t belong to the Culinary,” he said.
He said the union will be part of a "large swath" of Nevadans who will be working to make sure President Trump does not win in Nevada.
Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer, Culinary Workers Union Local 226; Hugh Jackson, editor, Nevada Current