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Nevada Culinary Workers, Sanders Supporters Clash over Health Insurance


A dispute has broken out between the Culinary Workers Union (CWU) and supporters of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign — after a CWU flyer surfaced in Las Vegas which warned members their current health plan could be replaced with a government-run insurance system supported by the Vermont Democratic Socialist.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders finds his health insurance plan is under scrutiny by members of the Culinary Workers Union (CWU). (Image: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

The friction erupts as Sanders narrowly won the New Hampshire Democratic primary on Tuesday and several candidates — such as former Vice President Joe Biden — are hoping politically influential unions will support their own campaigns.

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 8 decades,” Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, said in a statement released on Wednesday.

She points out the union invited Sanders for a recent town hall with CWU members. He also toured the 60,000-square foot Culinary Health Center and the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas.

“Our union believes that everyone has the right to good healthcare and that healthcare should be a right, not a privilege,” Arguello-Kline added in the statement. “We have already enacted a vision for what working people need — and it exists now. Workers should have the right to choose to keep the healthcare Culinary Union members have built, sacrificed for, and went on strike for 6 years, 4 months, and 10 days to protect.

“We have always stood up for what we believe in and will continue to do so…. Together, we will figure out the best way to fix healthcare in America, and the Culinary Union is committed to fighting until we win for everyone.”

The Nevada Independent reported the one-page flyer stated Sanders would “end Culinary Healthcare” if his plan were enacted. The flyer — when comparing positions of a half-dozen Democratic candidates in both English and Spanish — said Sanders would “end Culinary Healthcare” and “require ‘Medicare For All.’”

Currently, some 130,000 CWU workers and family members get their health insurance through the union’s Culinary Health Fund. Union officials apparently reject Medicare for all if it means losing the CWU fund for their members.

Nevada Presidential Caucuses on Feb. 22

So far, the 60,000-member CWU has not endorsed a candidate in the increasingly important Feb. 22 Nevada presidential caucuses. Any CWU endorsement is seen as a key influence on Nevada voters who often work in the region’s casinos and hotels.

The flyer’s contents were also to be sent to members via email and texts, the Independent reported. An earlier union statement claimed Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, wanted to take away union members’ hard-fought health plans, news reports said.

The more recent flyer said the union’s health insurance could be replaced under Warren’s plan after three years.

The flyer also details health plans from Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, as well as California billionaire Tom Steyer. These plans will allow for a government option but let union members keep their own plans, the Independent said.

Sanders Campaign Reaches Out to Hotel, Casino Workers

Chuck Rocha, a Sanders campaign adviser, told The Intercept the campaign was reaching out directly to culinary workers.

We’ve been directly calling them at their homes, talking to them at their work sites, and sending them mail, we’ve sent hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail to culinary workers who are Latino in Nevada talking about where Bernie Sanders stands,” Rocha was quoted. “And we have huge support among the culinary rank-and-file.”

Beyond health care, the flyer also details the positions of the six candidates on such key issues as immigration and jobs.

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