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Culinary Union Declines to Endorse Pre-caucus, Instead Stresses “Our Goal is to Defeat Trump”

After months of speculation, the Culinary Union finally decided to endorse… Not Donald Trump. Before the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary, it seemed like a fairly friendly affair involving several candidates the union saw as allies. Yet just this week, a controversial set of fliers caused a scene that ultimately made national headlines.

Yet despite the war of words over U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and his health care plan, the Culinary Union decided against retaliating by way of endorsing one of his rivals. Instead, Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline stressed, “We’re going to work really hard to defeat Donald Trump.”

What’s been going on between the Culinary Union and Bernie Sanders?
Photo by Andrew Davey

As I explained on Monday, the Culinary Union has fought long and hard for its top-of-the-line health insurance. And even though U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) have both reassured Culinary leaders and members that their respective “Medicare for Allsingle-payer health care plans will do no harm and ultimately help them along with the rest of the country, Culinary leaders went ahead and began sending literature to members suggesting that Sanders will “end Culinary health care”.

That has resulted in an escalating war of words amongst Culinary leaders who seek to protect members’ hard-fought benefits, Sanders supporters who seek to correct the record on what they see as a misleading slander against their candidate and progressive health care policy, and the other candidates who are jockeying to benefit from this fight. 

This actually isn’t the first time Sanders got on the wrong side of Culinary, though he may now be trying to make it right by showing support for them in their contract dispute with Valley Hospital management. Today, the Culinary Union added another twist to this fight by announcing its long-awaited endorsement decision: No endorsement, at least not before February 22.

“We’re proud of what we do. We build the middle class.” 
– Geoconda Arguello-Kline, Culinary Union 226
Culinary Union
Photo by Andrew Davey

Over the past 100 hours, a typically mundane story of union leaders circulating “informational flyers” amongst members exploded into a national story that’s fueled pundits’ speculation over Sanders’ relationship with the labor movement, Buttigieg’s continuing struggle to forge any kind of relationship with the labor movement, and whether any of his union allies will ride to former Vice President Joe Biden’s rescue in his hour of need.

But today, Culinary Union leaders brushed all that aside and instead used their press conference to school the visiting national press corps on not just their own history, but also the larger history of the labor movement in Nevada and America. They reminded the audience of the sacrifices their 60,000 members have made to protect their health insurance and assure living wages in an economy that’s otherwise been defined by Nevada workers’ struggle to get by. As Arguello-Kline put it, “We’re proud of what we do. We build the middle class.”

On the “Medicare for All” hullabaloo, Arguello-Kline said, “We believe everyone has the right to good, quality health care. We believe everyone deserves a choice, too.” Otherwise, she and other Culinary leaders sidestepped the media firestorm and avoided any harsher criticism of Sanders.

“We have goals. […] One job should be enough. We want to defeat Trump.”
– Leain Vashon, Culinary Union 226

After the press conference, Culinary Union Vice President and Paris Las Vegas bell captain Leain Vashon declined to elaborate on the union’s decision not to endorse. Instead, he simply stated, “We have goals. […] One job should be enough. We want to defeat Trump.”

On Sanders and health care, Vashon kept it very diplomatic as he declared, “We have a lot of good [Democratic presidential] candidates out here. We don’t totally agree with everybody or disagree with everybody.” 

And on the subset of Sanders supporters who have been more virulent in attacking the union, Vashon said, “Bernie said, ‘Don’t do it.’ We say, ‘Don’t do it.’ We don’t know who’s behind it. […] We’re not going to respond to the negativity.”

“I very much appreciate the struggle that the Culinary Union is waging to improve the lives of working families in Nevada and throughout this country, and I agree with their key goals.” 
– Bernie Sanders, in a statement released today
Photo by Andrew Davey

Shortly after Culinary’s press conference, Sanders released a statement where he declared, “I very much appreciate the struggle that the Culinary Union is waging to improve the lives of working families in Nevada and throughout this country, and I agree with their key goals.” He also stressed, “Harassment of all forms is unacceptable to me, and we urge supporters of all campaigns not to engage in bullying or ugly personal attacks. 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.”

In terms of the political ramifications of today’s non-endorsement, Culinary essentially showed Sanders grace while denying Buttigieg and Klobuchar the kind of earned media and reach to thousands of union members that could have helped them in their uphill battle to stop Sanders’ steady march towards the Democratic nomination. And with Culinary declining to endorse Biden, he faces even more of an uphill battle to stay afloat going forward.

But again, this is ultimately about way more than just one set of health care policy proposals, one candidate, or one early state presidential caucus. Over the past year, the Culinary Union and other local progressive movement leaders have been vetting all these candidates to see who’s best equipped to fight for Nevada’s diverse working-class communities. With Culinary declining to endorse, all these candidates will have to continue making their own respective cases to our voters.

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