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Nevada's Influential Culinary Workers Union Isn't Endorsing A Candidate

Joe Biden — and other more moderate candidates — had been hoping for an endorsement. But leaders said they are still focused on health care, after criticizing Bernie Sanders' proposals.

Posted on February 13, 2020, at 4:23 p.m. ET

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Nevada's largest union endorsed no one in the Democratic primary on Thursday.

The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 had not been expected to back a candidate in the primary — and it didn’t. But leadership took time, in a closely watched presser, to criticize any health care proposals that might affect what they’ve carefully won in Nevada.

"We're going to endorse our goals, what we're doing. That's what we're going to endorse," said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the secretary-treasurer for the union.

The no-endorsement comes as a blow to Joe Biden — who was looking for a late boost as his campaign has struggled in the early states — after a week of tension between the union and Bernie Sanders' supporters over health care. (Argüello-Kline called Biden "our friend" on Thursday.)

The largest and arguably most influential union in Nevada, the Culinary Workers Union Local 226’s leadership has made it clear that it is not in favor of a Medicare for All proposal because it would ultimately involve giving up union-negotiated health care plans. That left Biden and Pete Buttigieg as the two likely frontrunners for the endorsement. (In 2016, the union did not endorse during the primary, but backed Hillary Clinton in the general election.)

Argüello-Kline said Thursday that members did not vote on the endorsement question but did take surveys.

On Wednesday, the union put out a statement saying it was receiving "disappointing" attacks from Sanders supporters, after the Nevada Independent obtained a flyer that leadership distributed to members. The document, a grid with small print, notably said that Bernie Sanders would “end Culinary Healthcare” in a bullet point alongside other details about his proposals and views. Likewise, the document stated Warren's Medicare for All plan would "replace Culinary Healthcare after three-year transition or at end of collective bargaining agreements” and “lower drug prices.”

"It’s disappointing that Sen. Sanders’ supporters have viciously attacked the Culinary Union and working families in Nevada,” said Argüello-Kline said in a statement on Wednesday, “simply because our union has provided facts on what certain healthcare proposals might do to take away the system of care we have built over eight decades.”

The union’s 60,000 members are 54% Latinx and 15% Asian, representing workers who keep Las Vegas’s billion-dollar casino and hotel industry running. In 2016, the union says, 60% of its membership was registered to vote — including members’ families. As of 2019, the union says, they have approximately 82,400 people registered to vote.

“The health care issue for the members is number one,” said Argüello-Kline told BuzzFeed News in December.

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