Sen. Bernie Sanders won the endorsement of an influential teachers union in Nevada on Tuesday morning, a key sign of support in the early voting state where unions have significant political power.
“We appreciated that Sen. Sanders came to us, very much reached out to us, and wanted to speak to us,” Clark County Education Association President Vikki Courtney told BuzzFeed News on Monday night. Sanders was the clear leader in a recent straw poll of union members, she said, which was a major factor in the decision.
The union represents 19,000 teachers and other educators in Las Vegas and is the largest teachers union in Nevada. The Clark County School District is the fifth-largest school district in the country.
Courtney said union members were impressed with what Sanders “was raising, his concerns, and how he wanted to support and help educators, and not only the educators but the students themselves, to make sure education was open to all students across the board. It’s important to educators that everyone has access and that they get a good education.”
In a statement, Sanders thanked the union for its support and said he looked forward “to their partnership in transforming our country and defeating the most dangerous president in modern history."
"We’re proud to have teachers as our top donors by occupation because they hold the key to a more prosperous future for younger generations," he said. "Together, we will finally give teachers a much-deserved raise, reinvest in public education, and create an education system that benefits students no matter their background or socioeconomic status.”
In 2016’s presidential primary, Sanders earned endorsements from union locals across the country but lost out to Hillary Clinton on national endorsements including the SEIU, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the National Educators Association (NEA). The discrepancies between union bosses’ endorsements and their members’ support for Sanders caused turmoil within some unions, including the AFL-CIO.
The CCEA is the largest independent teachers union in the nation, after splitting off from the state teachers union and the NEA over disagreements about how revenue from dues was distributed. The endorsement also stands in contrast to the AFT, which has yet to endorse a presidential candidate.
“I just don’t see any of us doing anything before Iowa,” AFT president Randi Weingarten told the New York Times last week, referring to teachers unions. Weingarten has also recently been critical of Medicare For All, a key part of Sanders’ policy platform.
Some labor leaders, including the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka and the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas, have expressed similar skepticism about the health plan, arguing it would hurt their workers by making them give up their union-negotiated health care. Courtney said CCEA members were more interested in candidates’ education plans than their health care proposals.
She pointed to Sanders’ positions on raising teachers’ salaries and college debt forgiveness, which are part of the education plan he released in May last year.
“He is concerned about access to education for kids, for students themselves but also for the adults who are the educators," she said. "The student loan debt is part of that idea, it is hard to achieve when it costs so much to go to school. And that part is important because we’re lacking educators. We’re 1000 teachers short here in Nevada."
One union member, Kenny Belknap, who teaches AP and honors US government at Del Sol Academy in Las Vegas and is a member of the union’s executive board, said Sanders' plan to change standardized testing is among the policies he supports.
“You have to look at the issues, the record that he has, and then also just the general support that our profession lends to Bernie Sanders,” Belknap said.