Democrats Campaign For Workers Of Nevada's Culinary Union Three of the leading Democratic 2020 candidates visited the culinary workers union in Las Vegas this week. It's a testament to the group's political clout in Nevada.
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Democrats Campaign For Workers Of Nevada's Culinary Union

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Democrats Campaign For Workers Of Nevada's Culinary Union

Democrats Campaign For Workers Of Nevada's Culinary Union

Democrats Campaign For Workers Of Nevada's Culinary Union

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Three of the leading Democratic 2020 candidates visited the culinary workers union in Las Vegas this week. It's a testament to the group's political clout in Nevada.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Three of the leading Democratic presidential candidates visited the Culinary Union in Las Vegas this week. That fact testifies to the union's power in the early voting state of Nevada. The union knows its power and wants a lot for its endorsement.

NPR's Asma Khalid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: The Culinary Union is home to the maids, cooks, bartenders and casino workers along the Las Vegas Strip - in total, some 60,000 workers. As they gathered to hear from the candidates, the union seemed well aware of its power.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: We vote.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: We win.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: We vote.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: We win.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: We vote.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: We win.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: We vote.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: We win.

KHALID: During the 2016 caucuses, officially, it was neutral. But news reports at the time said former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pressed the Culinary Union to turn out its members. And that led Hillary Clinton to pull off a narrow win in Nevada. And so this week, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden all came to Vegas to try to prove they were labor's best friend.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

BERNIE SANDERS: You're looking at somebody who has stood with the union movement his entire life because I believe...

ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, I say it's time to put more power back into the hands of workers. That's why I'm here...

JOE BIDEN: You will never, ever, ever have in American history someone who is more pro-labor in the White House than Joe Biden.

KHALID: But the first question every candidate got was not about jobs, it was about health care.

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CRISTHIAN BARNEOND: My brothers and sisters on the Culinary Union have been fighting for this health insurance for 84 years, you know and fighting hard...

KHALID: That's Christian Barneond. The Culinary Union has negotiated top-notch health insurance for its members. They rave about being able to get free medications, among other benefits. And a lot of people, like Barneond, are nervous about losing that under so-called "Medicare for All." Warren tried to explain that she's not going to change what's covered, she's going to change who pays for it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARREN: What you've got is not something we want to make harder. What you've got is something I want to see replicated all around America. That's what I'm looking for.

(APPLAUSE)

WARREN: I want workers everywhere to have it.

BARNEOND: Yeah. Everybody should have health care, like she said. But I want our health care, which is really strong, to stay the same.

KHALID: That's Barneond again. Bernie Sanders faced similar questions and tried to explain how his health care plan would work.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDERS: Nobody will pay more than $200 a year for prescription drugs, no matter what your illness is.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Health care. Union health care. Union health care...

SANDERS: Under "Medicare for All" - under "Medicare for All..."

KHALID: Not sure if you could understand those chants. The people interrupting Sanders were shouting, union health care.

D TAYLOR: I do know this - if you tell people they have to give something up that they like, that's a really hard political sell. I think that will cause an issue.

KHALID: That's D. Taylor, president of Unite Here, the national umbrella union for these culinary workers. But Sanders still has goodwill with some members, in part because of his reputation on workers' rights. Francis Garcia (ph) was in the crowd and thinks Sanders' health care ideas are getting misunderstood. Free health care, she thinks, is security.

FRANCIS GARCIA: Right now, my kids depend on my insurance, but I don't want to think what is going to happen if one day I stop working for culinary. So myself and my kids are going to be out of health insurance because I don't - I'm not a union member?

KHALID: One thing to know about the Culinary Union is that a majority of its members are Latino. It's the largest immigrant organization in the state. And while health care might have been a liability for Sanders and Warren in this crowd, immigration was a tricky subject for Biden. Here's one question from a union member.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There were more people deported during your administration...

KHALID: He's talking about the large number of deportations under President Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: The idea that anyone would be deported without actually having committed a felony or a serious crime is going to end in my administration.

KHALID: Union leaders see all three of these candidates as loyal allies who have been on the picket lines with them. The major question for the maids, cooks, bartenders and casino workers is whether health care means more than a picket line.

Asma Khalid, NPR News, Las Vegas.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE SMITH'S "SKIP STEP")

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