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In A Still Crowded Democratic Field, Unions Shy To Endorse

Four AFSCME union members stand as one reads a statement.
Daniel Clark
The Nevada Independent
Nevada has more than 200,000 union members throughout the state and the eighth highest rate of membership across the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ahead of the Nevada Democratic caucus, speculation over which candidate union members are going to stand behind is mounting. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union members make up nearly 15 percent of the state’s workforce.

KUNR’s Paul Boger spoke with Bree Zender, who set out to track union endorsements.

BOGER: Have any unions actually endorsed in Nevada yet?

ZENDER: The only one of note that has endorsed is the Clark County Education Association. They represent teachers [and] endorsed Bernie Sanders back in January. Other organizations are a little bit more tight-lipped — specifically the Culinary Union. They represent casino workers, mostly in Southern Nevada, and there’s been a lot of focus on them. Their parent organization, UNITE HERE, declined to endorse anyone ahead of the caucus. Looking back into the history of [their] endorsements, they’ve endorsed Obama in 2008 ahead of that caucus, which was a controversial decision. In 2016, they declined to endorse anyone at that time.

BOGER: So those are a couple of the biggies. What about the others?

ZENDER: Many of the smaller ones are waiting for input from their national organizations, including the Nevada and Washoe Education Associations. Many are still deciding. Many unions are providing space for the candidates to come and pitch themselves to their members. That includes the SEIU Local 1107 in Northern Nevada. They represent all these hospital workers and public sector workers — about 19,000 people throughout the state.

Brian Shepherd is with the SEIU: “You know, we’ve had engagement with all the presidential candidates. Our focus has been on talking to all of them about how the current system isn’t working, and that corporations have rigged the system against working people.”

It’s likely that many of these organizations might just wait through the caucus and endorse for the general. At that point, most of them will endorse the democratic candidate, whoever that might be.

BOGER: Why do you think that is?

ZENDER: So I was wondering that. I spoke to Jon Ralston, he’s a political commentator who has been covering Nevada politics for decades, and he says it’s all just too much for the unions to digest: “Because it’s such a competitive race. Because it’s so uncertain what’s going to happen later in New Hampshire. The people don’t want to endorse until maybe the field shakes out a little bit more.”

BOGER: How much influence do the unions actually have here in Nevada?

ZENDER: You know, unions are very politically active. That’s kind of the point of [these] organizations, really. They get things done collectively for all of their benefit. 

Jon Ralston says they are a huge voting bloc: “It is much more relevant, obviously, in a democratic caucus or primary than in a general election. But its still relevant because even though we’re a right to work state, there are tens of thousands of union members [and] many or most of them are registered to vote.”

We’ve still got a little over two weeks until the caucus in Nevada though, so there’s still a lot of time for these organizations to select a candidate, if at all.

Bree Zender is a former host and reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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