Nevada’s Culinary Workers Union will begin a series of town hall meetings spotlighting presidential candidates, starting with US Sen. Kamala Harris on Friday. The California Democrat is the first of the field of Democrats who are expected to take part in the forums scheduled by the Las Vegas affiliate of the national Unite Here union.
Culinary Workers Union Local 226 spokeswoman Bethany Kahn told Casino.org the town hall meetings with membership will take place with “leading Democratic candidates in the 2020 US presidential race to discuss issues that matter most.”
Among the topics expected to be addressed are increasing the number of “good union jobs, healthcare, [and] immigration,” Kahn said.
When asked if the series of town hall events show that the Democratic party is aligning itself with the goals of the union, Kahn responded in an email, “You’ll have to ask the Dem. Party.”
But two UNLV professors believe that Democratic presidential candidates appear eager to concur with many key positions promoted by the union. The Culinary Union has some 60,000 members in Nevada, and the town hall meetings could help the candidates attract their votes.
“It does show the influence of the union,” said Ruben Garcia, co-director of the Workplace Law Program at UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law, where he also teaches employment law, to Casino.org. “It’s true for several cycles now,” he added.
Among the issues of concern to the Culinary Union are income inequality, health insurance, and retirement, Garcia said.
Culinary Workers Union in Recognition Struggle with Station Casinos
The union is also concerned about collective bargaining certification at Station Casinos properties. It won elections to represent workers at several Station venues. Management has appealed issues surrounding union votes, with no resolution so far in sight.
Different Democratic candidates also have supported the union in its collective bargaining efforts. For instance, former Vice President Joseph Biden — now competing for the Democratic presidential nomination — wrote Station Casinos CEO Frank Fertitta III, who is a donor to Donald Trump and other Republican causes, to encourage the company to negotiate contracts with the union.
I don’t think the Station matter is a partisan issue,” Garcia said. He explained that the Station issues before the National Labor Relations Board — whose members are appointed by Trump — are “fairly straightforward.”
Garcia added it was expected there would be “a lot of interest in the Democratic [presidential] field among labor unions here in Nevada and throughout the country.” The Culinary Union has yet to endorse a candidate for president.
In the past, it endorsed Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in their prior bids for president.
“Unions have been an important part of Democratic support for decades,” Dan Lee, a UNLV assistant professor of political science, further told Casino.org.
“We tend to think of corporations as favoring Republicans, and unions as favoring Democrats,” Lee explained. “That has been somewhat of an issue, highlighted by the 2016 elections. Union membership is down, and along with that, unions have fewer resources — votes and money — to support Democratic candidates.”
Trump Captured Many Worker Votes in 2016
He points out that Trump did “especially well with white, working class voters” in his 2016 presidential campaign.
“Moving forward, the Democratic party will want to solidify their support from working class voters, broadly speaking, union and non-union. But what is especially beneficial of union support is the campaigning support they can provide,” Lee added.
For instance, in Nevada, the Culinary Workers Union is very active in mobilizing voters,” Lee said. “We saw this effect in the 2018 midterm elections, which had especially high voter turnout. The unions have always been an important part of the Harry Reid [former US Senator from Nevada] party machine, which has supported Democratic candidates by getting voters to the polls.”
One area where many Democratic politicians appear to agree with the Culinary Union is on strengthening unions and collective bargaining rights, according to Lee. “As an example, we just saw this in Nevada state politics, where this year a bill was passed by the Democratic-controlled state legislature and signed into law by the Democratic governor that gave state workers collective bargaining rights,” Lee added.
Still, even though Democratic candidates consistently try to align with unions, Lee points to the “tricky issue” of trade policy.
“Democrats have been more open to freer trade policies, especially since NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement], while Trump adopted a protectionist position,” he added. “That contributed to Trump’s inroads among working class voters.”
Democratic presidential candidates have been visiting Nevada during the campaign season. Part of their interest may relate to the fact the state’s Democratic presidential caucuses are on Feb. 22, 2020, among the earliest caucuses or primaries in the nation.