Nevada Union Targets Sanders, Warren Over Socialized Medicine

Powerful union helped Clinton beat Sanders in 2016

February 12, 2020

Nevada’s most powerful union is attacking Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) over his support for Medicare for All, as the Vermont socialist attempts to build off of his victory in the New Hampshire primary.

The Culinary Union, the state's largest union and a key driver of the Democrats' 2016 victories in Nevada, is warning over 50,000 hospitality workers that the Medicare for All plans backed by Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) will "end culinary health care" benefits. Those health plans were hard-won for union members who staged strikes and work stoppages to wring concessions from casino owners and now cover more than 130,000 people. Medicare for All would eliminate the union’s own health care plan. In a flyer distributed to workers, the union said Sanders will outright end union health care while Warren will gradually "replace" it.

The group has previously sniped at Medicare for All in more subtle ways, distributing a different flyer in February that denounced politicians who "promise" that eliminating union health care will lead to wage increases. Sanders told the union’s members that giving up their health care will bump their wages by $12,000 at a December town hall.

The union’s rebuke is the latest in the pushback against Medicare for All that threatens to blunt the democratic socialist’s momentum following his narrow victory in New Hampshire. Most Democrats prefer a candidate who would build on Obamacare rather than implement Medicare for All, according to a January poll. Warren’s support took a nosedive when rivals scrutinized the eye-popping cost of her Medicare for All plan—a similar reckoning might be in place for Sanders.

The union is a political heavyweight in the state, spending more than $2.2 million on political activities between 2016 and 2018. Not only did the union play a key role in Hillary Clinton's victory over Sanders in the 2016 Nevada caucuses, but it also helped the Democratic nominee win the state during the general election, even as she trailed in many state polls. The union remains staunchly opposed to the president, calling members to "unite to DEFEAT Trump in November," but its national office has remained neutral in the Democratic primary.

A Warren spokeswoman said that the union recognized that the Warren plan will replace union health care after a "3-year transition or at the end of a collective bargaining agreement" and lower prices. The Sanders campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The union established its health care plan in 1983 as a result of a collective bargaining agreement. It offers members access to a 24-hour health center and two pharmacies, among other perks, all without monthly premium payments. The union has been vocal about its opposition to proposals that would interfere with those benefits. Members heckled Sanders when he tried to pitch his Medicare for All plan to them in December.

Christopher Pope, a health care policy expert at the pro-free market Manhattan Institute, said that unions would be among the "biggest losers of Medicare for All," since a nationalized health care plan would strip union members of the lucrative health care coverage they secured from employers.

"All these unions are obviously pretty skeptical about the [Medicare for All] claim," Pope said. "So these people are completely aware of their own interests and are aware that they're going to end up with less paying more for it."

The union’s flyer noted that Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Tom Steyer will "protect culinary health care." A union spokesman said that the group is "still deciding" on whether to endorse a candidate ahead of the state caucus.

Charlyce Bozzello, spokeswoman for labor watchdog Center for Union Facts, said that it was "remarkable" that unions are recognizing that Medicare for All is not beneficial to their members but said that other labor groups still remain silent on the matter.

Pope noted that other unions in the country are also "uneasy" with the threat posed by Medicare for All and said other heavyweight unions might voice their concerns as their primary and caucus dates approach.

"I would be surprised if by the time the Michigan primary comes around, we don’t hear much from the UAW, AFL-CIO," he said. "Really, every union is going to be worried about this."

The Nevada caucus is scheduled to take place on Feb. 22.