Powerhouse Nevada Union Won’t Endorse a Democratic Candidate

Nevada’s powerful Culinary Workers Union on Thursday declined to endorse a Democratic presidential candidate ahead of the state’s Feb. 22 caucus, depriving Joe Biden of a needed boost to his campaign.

The former vice president needed a jolt of support following a fourth-place finish in Iowa and a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, but the union’s decision not to back anyone deprives him of a chance to rally his flagging candidacy and to add organizational muscle.

“The official announcement is we are going to endorse our goals,” the union’s secretary-treasurer, Geoconda Arguello-Kline, said at a news conference. “We’re not going to endorse a candidate, a political candidate.”

But she mentioned just one candidate by name while delivering a prewritten statement — Biden. “We respect every single political candidate right now. We know they are great people. We know Vice President Biden for many years. We know, he’s been our friend,” she said.

The union has criticized Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal, which it has warned would replace the health care benefits the labor group has negotiated over the years.

Political observers widely expected that Biden, whose health care proposal would allow plans like the union’s to continue to operate, would secure the group’s backing, helping to slow his campaign’s post-Iowa caucus freefall. Instead, its non-endorsement will be perceived as a slight against Biden and a sign that even a key ally was unwilling to take a risk in backing him.

The state of play in Nevada is difficult to assess because there have been no polls of the state released since mid-January, when Biden held a 1 point lead over Sanders in a USA Today/Suffolk University survey. Given Biden’s recent slide in national polls and surveys in other states, Sanders has come to be seen as the candidate to beat in Nevada.

Biden’s campaign said Thursday that it is redeploying almost 50 staffers from Super Tuesday states to Nevada and South Carolina, bringing the staff totals in those states to more than 130 and more than 60, respectively, according to a campaign official. The official said those staffers will immediately return to Super Tuesday states after Nevada and South Carolina vote.

“Joe Biden is committed to the union and its members because like him, they fight for hardworking people,” Biden’s Nevada communications director, Vedant Patel, said in a statement. “The Culinary Union and Joe Biden agree that people should be able to choose the health care they want and keep the health insurance they’ve fought for. We are going to compete for every vote that we can in Nevada, including from Culinary members, who have seen Vice President Biden’s full-throated commitment to unions firsthand.”

The union has 60,000 members in Las Vegas and Reno, more than half of whom are Latino. In 2016, 84,000 people participated in the Democratic caucus statewide, meaning that a successful effort by the union to convince its members to caucus for its chosen candidate could have a significant impact on the results of this year’s caucus.

A key issue for the union is its Culinary Health Fund, which provides benefits to more than 130,000 people including its members and their dependents. The union is fiercely protective of the program and has warned members that Medicare for All plans like the one supported by Sanders would eliminate that benefit.

Earlier this week, the union issued a one-page handout to members warning them of “presidential candidates suggesting forcing millions of hard-working people to give up their health care.” After it began distributing the document, Sanders supporters had “viciously attacked” the union, Arguello-Kline said in a statement Wednesday.

With its handout, the union was conveying “facts on what certain health care proposals might do to take away the system of care we have built over 8 decades,” Arguello-Kline said. “We have always stood up for what we believe in and will continue to do so.”

Sanders addressed the online harassment in a statement on Thursday.

“Harassment of all forms is unacceptable to me, and we urge supporters of all campaigns not to engage in bullying or ugly personal attacks,” he said. “Our campaign is building a multi-generational, multi-racial movement of love, compassion, and justice. We can certainly disagree on issues, but we must do it in a respectful manner.”

On Thursday, Sanders angled to appear supportive of the union, using a tweet to back its efforts to negotiate with UHS Inc., parent company of a local hospital.

In 2016, the union declined to endorse either Hillary Clinton or Sanders because of concerns that an endorsement would strain resources just ahead of its contract negotiations.

In 2008, Barack Obama received the union’s support but Clinton won seven of nine caucuses held at casinos along the Las Vegas Strip after Bill and Chelsea Clinton campaigned aggressively through its cafeterias and break rooms. Ultimately, Clinton won more votes statewide while Obama won more delegates to the Democratic nominating convention.

The union’s headquarters are an early caucus site for four days beginning Saturday.

(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

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