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Nevada’s powerful Culinary Union won’t endorse in Democratic presidential race

The Culinary Union, Nevada’s largest labor union and political organizing force, will not endorse a candidate ahead of the February 22 Democratic caucuses there, the union’s leaders announced Thursday — just days after it criticized Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders over his health care plan.

“We respect every single political candidate right now. We know they are great people,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the union’s secretary and treasurer.

She said the union will “really work hard” to defeat President Donald Trump in 2020.

The Culinary Workers Union, or UNITE HERE Local 226, represents 60,000 hotel and restaurant workers in Las Vegas casinos, and also says it is the largest immigrant organization with a membership representing 178 countries and speaking over 40 different languages

The union boasts the state’s largest massive grassroots organizing force, with 350 workers phone banking and canvassing in the 2018 midterms.

The non-endorsement from the union is another example of opponents of Sanders — or of parts of his progressive policy platform — failing to coalesce around a more moderate alternative.

While it stayed out of the Democratic primary, the union made one priority clear in recent days: opposing the “Medicare for All” plan championed by Sanders. It’s offered softer criticism of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who proposes a similar or same plan.

Argüello-Kline said Thursday that members “want to protect their health care.”

Still, she appeared eager to de-escalate tensions with Sanders’ camp. Pressed repeatedly on whether the union would aggressively oppose the Vermont senator, she pointed back to a flyer that listed the candidates’ health care positions, rather than offering any new criticism.

In recent days the union had criticized Medicare for All, telling members that a single-payer, government-run health plan would force members off the union’s health trust fund that provides coverage for 130,000 workers and their families.

“Presidential candidates suggesting forcing millions of hard working people to give up their healthcare creates unnecessary division between workers, and will give us four more years of Trump,” the union said in an English- and Spanish-language one-page leaflet that went to workers.

In another flyer describing the candidates’ health care positions, the union says Sanders would “end Culinary Healthcare” and “require ‘Medicare For All.'” Next to Warren’s name, it lists “Medicare For All” and “replace Culinary Healthcare after 3-year transition or at end of collective bargaining agreements.” That flyer also praises the health care positions of former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and businessman Tom Steyer, saying each would “protect Culinary Healthcare.”

That second flyer, which asks members to rank their first, second and third choices among the candidates, draws two additional distinctions. On health care, it says Biden, Klobuchar and Steyer would “expand Obamacare with public option,” while Buttigieg would “have ‘Medicare for All Who Want It.'”

And in another field, titled Good Jobs, it says all the candidates would strengthen union rights, but includes an additional bullet point for Klobuchar, saying she would “work with unions on regulations about technology at work.”

The flyers were first reported by The Nevada Independent.

The union claimed Wednesday that its staffers had been attacked on Twitter by people purporting to support Sanders over its opposition to Medicare for All.

“It’s disappointing that Senator Sanders’ supporters have viciously attacked the Culinary Union and working families in Nevada 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,s,” Argüello-Kline said in a statement on Wednesday.

Sanders’ campaign has sought to reassure union members that Medicare for All would not worsen the quality of their health coverage.

“We will guarantee that coverage is as comprehensive or more so than the health care benefits union workers currently receive, and union health clinics, including the Culinary’s health clinic, will remain open to serve their members,” said Sarah Michelsen, Sanders’ Nevada state director.

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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