Other states like Florida and Ohio may be bigger, but Nevada and its 6 electoral votes will be key in the fall. And the race in that state, along with a couple House races and a key Senate race that could determine control of the chamber, may come down to whether the Culinary Union engages in the fall or sits out the election.
The leader of the largest and most potent labor union in Nevada is threatening that he and his 55,000 foot-soldiers will sit out the fall elections in this crucial battleground for the Senate and the presidency. Culinary Local 226 has been a critical centerpiece in the vaunted Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts in Nevada. The union bused workers to the polls in 2010, helping propel Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to victory. In the 2008 presidential contest, its members helped carry the state for then-candidate Barack Obama.
But this year D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the union, said that the fall campaigns aren’t a priority. With all their contracts with local unionized casinos expired and a bitter organizing fight underway with the non-union Station Casinos chain, Taylor said that the group is at capacity.
“We really divide between two things, which [are] our contracts and Stations,” Taylor told National Journal. “I’ve told everybody if we don’t have those settled, or some of them settled, we’re not going to lie to you and tell you we’re going to be involved politically.”
Taylor isn’t bashful about wanting some help from the same Democratic politicians the union has helped elect over the years. But such assistance has not been forthcoming. “Sometimes the Democrats wonder why workers don’t rally around them. It’s because they really don’t rally around workers in time of need,” he said.
We’ve seen a couple instances over the past few days of chickens coming home to roost. In Florida, the Obama campaign is struggling to find their voters after years of foreclosures. Now, in Nevada, Democrats could pay the price for failing to stand behind labor and simply expecting to use them as foot soldiers in get-out-the-vote efforts.
Very few unions could pull off this kind of power play. But the Culinary Union in Nevada, the virtual home of the hospitality industry, can. They have a large membership base of cooks and housekeepers and hotel personnel in the main population centers of the state. And they have the ability to mobilize those voters, particularly the Latino voters who make up 45% of their membership, as we saw in the re-election of Harry Reid in 2010. As I noted, there are key downballot races in Nevada, in addition to the Presidential contest. Shelley Berkley and Dean Heller are in a neck-and-neck race for the US Senate. And at least one and possibly two House seats are in play.
This is another case where concerns about the economy matter more to the rank and file than who wins an election. Nevada is another foreclosure crisis ground zero, and will give candidates the same challenges as in Florida. And unions like this one feel abandoned on an economic justice level by both parties.
It’s possible this is just posturing to get political support for a series of upcoming contract negotiations. Union leaders said they would suspend their political activities last year, and most of them have come running back to the Democratic fold. Taylor, the leader of the union, did refer to a crisis that would result from Republicans winning the election. So it’s unclear this will hold. But for now, the failure to stand behind unions could lead, in a key state, to unions declining to stand behind Democrats.