The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165 (“the Culinary Union”) represents 60,000 workers in Las Vegas and Reno, including workers at most of the casino resorts on the Las Vegas Strip and in Downtown Las Vegas. It is affiliated with UNITE HERE, which represents 280,000 workers in gaming, hotel, and food service industries in North America.
The Culinary Union is a powerful player in Nevada politics. It has been called Nevada’s most powerful Latino turnout machine. The ability to turn out voters, Latino and otherwise, is particularly important to any candidate seeking to win caucuses.
The Culinary Union did not take a side during the 2016 Nevada Democratic caucuses, but pushed vigorously for Hillary Clinton in the general election. Clinton carried Nevada by 27,000 votes.
Bernie Sanders might have hoped to receive the Culinary Union’s backing this time around. At a minimum, he might have thought the Union would remain neutral, as it did in 2016.
After all, the Culinary Union has links with the left. John Wilhelm was the longtime head of UNITE HERE. He spent a decade in Las Vegas building up the local.
Wilhelm is the cousin of New York’s far left mayor Bill de Blasio (the mayor was born Warren Wilhelm, Jr.). De Blasio and his cousin are close and UNITE HERE worked hard to elect de Blasio and to attack his opponent.
The Culinary Union won’t be supporting Sanders, though. In fact, it is working to defeat him in Nevada.
The Union has distributed a flyer to all 60,000 members in English and Spanish via text and email stating flatly that Sanders will “End Culinary Healthcare” and “Require ‘Medicare for All.’” It was the second flyer the union issued on the subject in three days, but this one was harsher on Sanders than its predecessor.
Here is how the American Prospect, which is none too pleased, describes the latest flyer:
The flyer purports to compare six leading presidential candidates on “Culinary Union issues.” But on “good jobs” and “immigration,” the candidates are all listed as having identical views.
Only on healthcare is there any divergence. While Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Tom Steyer will “Protect Culinary Healthcare” according to the flyer, Sanders will end it. For Elizabeth Warren, whose struggles over defining her position on healthcare are well-documented, the Culinary Union softens their tone, writing that she will “Replace Culinary Healthcare after 3-year transition or at end of collective bargaining agreements.” So this “informational” flyer really boils down to a hit on Sanders. . . .
Why the hit on Sanders? Maybe the Union genuinely believes that Sanders’s health care plan would be bad for its members. Maybe it thinks the plan would be bad for the Union’s finances.
Maybe its motive is political, based on a desire to boost Joe Biden and/or prevent the nomination of Sanders. Former Sen. Harry Reid is tight with the Union. Reid doesn’t plan to endorse anyone until after the Nevada caucuses, but he may favor Biden and/or share the party establishment’s concern about nominating Sanders.
What impact will the Union’s attack on Sanders have? It seems bound to harm Sanders, but how much?
The answer might depend on where union members who defect from Sanders take their support. Ten days ago, I would have expected most of them to take it to Biden. Maybe they still will, but Biden is damaged goods now.
Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar reportedly haven’t done any serious Latino outreach in Nevada and may not be well known to these voters. Elizabeth Warren has done Latino outreach in the state, but her health insurance plan isn’t what the Culinary Union favors.
Maybe Tom Steyer will be the beneficiary. There is evidence that Steyer is gaining traction in South Carolina. If he does well in Nevada and South Carolina, maybe Sanders won’t have have the left lane to himself after all.
So perhaps the real beneficiary of the Culinary Union’s attack on Sanders will be chaos.