Why Nevada’s Culinary Union isn’t buying Medicare for All

Why Nevada’s Culinary Union isn’t buying Medicare for All


JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn now to the Democratic
presidential race.
The state of Nevada is third in line to vote
in the primary contest next year.
That gives it a key role in picking the Democrats’
presidential nominee.
As John Yang reports, a labor union dominated
by women and Latinos could decide the winner.
JOHN YANG: Susana Loli’s quiet neighborhood
is eight miles and a world away from the crowds
and clamor of the Las Vegas Strip, but 23
years of cleaning hotel rooms there has allowed
the Peru native to build a life she’s proud
of, thanks in large part to her union, Culinary
Workers Local 226.
SUSANA LOLI, Culinary Workers Union: I can
have a better job, better pay, better health
insurance.
I have a house and a car.
My life has changed.
My kids went to the university, and, for me,
was the best.
JOHN YANG: Sixty thousand Nevada hotel and
casino workers are represented by the Culinary
Union, by far the state’s largest and most
politically influential.
The majority-Latino, majority-female union
reflects the changing face of U.S. organized
labor and Nevada’s increasingly diverse population,
now nearly 30 percent Latino.
The union has negotiated generous employer-paid
benefits, including top-tier health insurance.
More than 140,000 workers and dependents get
free care at the union’s clinic and pharmacy.
Loli has relied on that for her family, and
for herself when she needed surgery after
an on-the-job injury.
SUSANA LOLI: I was moving something and pushed
with my leg, and I feel something popping.
The next day, it was swollen, my knee.
And I cannot work like that.
It’s expensive, thousands of dollars.
JOHN YANG: And, for you, if you don’t work,
you don’t get paid, right?
SUSANA LOLI: Yes.
JOHN YANG: Like Loli, fellow union member
Mirtha Rojas also works at a hotel on the
Strip and is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
MIRTHA ROJAS, Culinary Workers Union: I’m
from Cuba.
JOHN YANG: She came to America in 2000 with
her daughter, Nancy, who now has a 3-year-old
son of her own, Juan.
Rojas first worked non-union jobs in Las Vegas.
And what were the differences?
What — between the job and what you were
getting from you employer at the non-union
hotel and what you were getting at the…
(CROSSTALK)
MIRTHA ROJAS: Very different.
For example, the health insurance, I need
to pay for me, for my daughter, very expensive,
every month.
So, in the union, don’t pay nothing.
JOHN YANG: Last year, she was part of the
union’s political organizing, considered the
state’s most effective Latino voter turnout
operation.
About 250 culinary workers took leave from
their jobs ahead of the midterm elections,
knocking on some 200,000 doors and registering
10,000 new voters.
MIRTHA ROJAS: We got it.
We win.
JOHN YANG: On Election Day, Democrats won
up and down the ballot.
REP.
JACKY ROSEN (D-NV): Our union is a lifeblood
of our community.
JOHN YANG: Including Jacky Rosen, who flipped
a red Senate seat to blue.
Rosen joined the Culinary Union during a summer
in college.
REP.
JACKY ROSEN: The acceptance speeches, everything
was at Caesars Palace, and that’s where just
about 40 years ago I was that summer waitress.
JOHN YANG: Rojas says she will be back at
it next year.
MIRTHA ROJAS: Yes, I’m ready.
(LAUGHTER)
MIRTHA ROJAS: I’m ready, because this is important.
We need to stay together.
JOHN YANG: Nevada’s Democratic presidential
caucuses in February will be the first big
test of the candidates’ appeal to Latino voters.
And that’s why the support of the culinary
workers is so coveted.
Jon Ralston is editor of The Nevada Independent,
a nonprofit online news site.
JON RALSTON, The Nevada Independent: I know
it’s a cliche, but the Culinary Union is the
800-pound gorilla of Nevada politics.
And, by the way, both sides recognize this.
The Republicans are afraid of what the Culinary
can do, and the Democrats want the Culinary
to do what it can do.
JOHN YANG: Former hotel worker Geoconda Arguello-Kline
is the top official of Local 226.
GEOCONDA ARGUELLO-KLINE, Culinary Workers
Union: The health care issue, for the members,
it’s number one.
JOHN YANG: That could be a big problem for
Democratic presidential candidates pushing
Medicare for all.
SEN.
ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), Presidential Candidate:
Medical for all, this is our opportunity.
SEN.
BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), Presidential Candidate:
Medicare to every man, woman and child.
JOHN YANG: Progressives argue that if health
care was out of contract negotiations, unions
could press for higher wages.
Local 226 members aren’t buying it.
GEOCONDA ARGUELLO-KLINE: I don’t think that’s
the solution for them.
I don’t think that the members will listen
to me about that.
SUSANA LOLI: No, I want to continue with my
health insurance, the same plan.
For us, work perfect.
MIRTHA ROJAS: I love my health insurance because
it’s the best.
So I want my health insurance.
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), Presidential Candidate:
I’m not going to let anyone, Republican or
Democrat, take it away, period.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JOHN YANG: Moderates like former Vice President
Joe Biden oppose Medicare for all.
It’s an issue with organized labor beyond
the culinary workers.
JON RALSTON: Other unions here, like AFSCME
and maybe even SEIU, their members love their
medical plans.
I think the prospect of losing that is going
to weigh on their minds, especially if another
candidate — the most likely one, of course,
is Biden, if he sticks around — to keep pointing
that out — you could lose your insurance
with Warren or Sanders.
JOHN YANG: While union leaders and rank-and-file
members like Rojas and Loli are still deciding
which candidate to back, they have a clear
message about what it will take to win their
support.
SUSANA LOLI: They have to know about the benefits
that we have.
We have good health insurance, good pension,
good pay.
It’s very important.
MIRTHA ROJAS: We need somebody working together
with the union.
Immigration is important for me, because,
when somebody’s coming here, somebody’s having
dreams.
JOHN YANG: The faces of what could be crucial
support next year, when Nevada helps pick
presidential winners and losers.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m John Yang in Las
Vegas.

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