Democratic presidential candidates court labor support in Nevada


LAS VEGAS, Nevada (Reuters) – Retired letter carrier Leslie Maxwell Burton has a message for Democratic presidential contenders campaigning in the early voting state of Nevada this weekend: She won’t vote for anyone who tries to take away her hard-won union health plan.

Labor’s concerns about healthcare and other issues will be in the spotlight as most of the 18 candidates seeking the nomination attend the state party’s annual fundraising reception in Las Vegas on Sunday and spend time courting union voters around Nevada.

Union support is crucial for Democrats in Nevada’s Feb. 22 caucuses. The third state to hold its nominating contest, Nevada’s union membership is the higher than the national average, with about 14% of workers in 2018 compared to the 10.5% unionization rate nationwide.

Most unions have not yet endorsed a candidate. Democrats are courting them intensely, offering plans to protect their contracts, raise the minimum wage, expand healthcare and, in diverse states such as Nevada, promising to ease the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown.

Labor-friendly candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are facing a tough sell with some union members who fear losing their negotiated benefits under the U.S. senators’ proposals to eliminate private insurance and transition all Americans to the government’s Medicare health insurance plan.

“If they come in and try to strip everything away, that’s just going to make people mad,” voter Maxwell Burton said.

Democrats also will need labor support to hold onto Nevada in the November 2020 general election. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton beat Republican President Donald Trump in the battleground state by just 2.5 percentage points in 2016.

In addition to fundraising, unions can mount large grassroots operations, with members knocking on doors, holding rallies and boosting turnout by bringing friends, families and colleagues to the polls.

Union participation is so valuable to Nevada Democrats that they are holding early caucus voting in union halls next year, and the party’s state chair is a former union organizer.

Leaders from Nevada’s largest labor organization, the 60,000-member Culinary Union Local 226, said they have made clear to the Democratic presidential field that protecting their health plans is a top priority. Members of the state umbrella group AFL-CIO and the president of the Laborers Union Local 872 have also echoed those concerns.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who held a 10 percentage point lead over Warren and Sanders in a Nov. 4 poll by the Nevada Independent, will join his leading rivals at the state party event.

Biden has promised to preserve union health coverage, aggressively prosecute employers who violate labor laws and increase access to unions for working people.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and California Senator Kamala Harris, who also will attend the reception, have marched on union picket lines and vowed to protect union health care as well.

Warren, appearing to respond to union concerns, promised on Friday to protect union health coverage under Medicare for All.

Representatives from labor would participate in a commission charged with setting up the program, and non-profit union clinics would be allowed to continue to provide care, she said in her latest plan.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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