Sanders backers clash with Culinary over health care proposal

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., with his wife Jane O’Meara Sanders, arrives to speak to supporters at a primary night election rally in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

Wed, Feb 12, 2020 (4:20 p.m.)

Bernie Sanders has reached front-runner status in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination after a strong showing last week in the Iowa caucus and an outright win Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary.

Coming into Nevada's caucus Feb. 22, however, “Medicare for All,” the Vermont senator’s signature health care policy proposal, may sink his support from one of the most powerful Nevada constituencies: organized labor.

The Culinary Union, a 60,000-member group of mostly Las Vegas casino workers, released a statement today from Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline criticizing the single-payer, government-run health care proposal and alleging that some Sanders supporters have “viciously attacked the Culinary Union and working families in Nevada” because the union has criticized the proposal.

The union is concerned with the potential loss of the health care benefits it has negotiated with employers under the rollout of a government-run health care program that would abolish private insurance. In the statement, Argüello-Kline said the union believes everyone has the right to health care but stressed that its current model is “what working people need.”

When reached by text message, Bethany Khan, a spokesperson for the Culinary Union, said the attacks were coming over the phone and social media.

“Search Culinary Union on Twitter,” she said. “(The) same content on Twitter is in our mentions, tweets, direct messages, (coming from) phone calls and voicemail.”

A search through tweets mentioning the Culinary Union shows arguments between Sanders backers and union supporters. It’s not the first time the two camps have clashed.

At a December town hall event with the Culinary Union, Sanders was heckled by some members of the crowd when discussing single-payer health care.

Recently, a leaflet was circulated to Culinary members attacking single-payer health care. Forcing people off of their private health care, the leaflet said, “creates unnecessary division between workers, and will give us four more years of Trump.” The leaflet did not explicitly name any candidates.

A spokesperson for the Nevada Sanders campaign said they had no comment.

Sanders has said his goal is to show union members that Medicare for All would not result in any drop in coverage quality from private health care currently in place.

“Medicare for All eliminates the profiteering of the insurance companies and the drug companies, and it does away with the incredible administrative bureaucracy that now exists when we’re administering literally thousands of separate health insurance programs,” Sanders said in a previous interview.

The Culinary Union is a political powerhouse in the state, and its support and endorsement is a coveted prize for politicians. Almost every major Democratic candidate still in the race has spoken to union members in the past year.

The status of a potential Culinary endorsement is still up in the air, though its national affiliate, Unite Here, has declined to make an endorsement.

Khan said the union is “still deciding on whether to endorse ahead of the caucus.”

Candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted his support for the union after it posted the statement on Twitter.

“I stand with the working men and women of (the Culinary Union) because supporting labor means supporting our unions,” Biden tweeted.

The union’s statement comes during the run-up to the Nevada Democratic caucuses. Early voting for the caucuses begins Saturday and runs through Tuesday.

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