Sanders faces rare union opposition in Nevada over ‘Medicare for All’

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersYang: NYC should implement universal basic income Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won’t endorse before caucuses after ‘Medicaid for All’ scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case Trump reveals he would vote for a gay presidential candidate MORE‘s support for his signature “Medicare for All” proposal has created an unexpected divide between the White House hopeful and his usually reliable labor union base.

Sanders faces scrutiny from the powerful Nevada Culinary Workers Union, which is warning that his goal of overhauling the nation’s health care system would put an end to private plans for union members.

But the labor group stopped short of endorsing one of Sanders’s Democratic rivals. On Thursday, the union declined to back a candidate, leaving the field wide open for the remaining contenders heading into the states Feb. 22 caucuses.

Union secretary-treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline did not directly attack Sanders when pressed repeatedly at a press conference, saying only that the union believes people have the right to make their own health care choices.

The union is a key force in elections in the state, and is a highly sought-after endorsement on the road to the White House. The labor group for hospitality workers has a reputation for funding a massive turnout effort and can be a game changer, especially for a candidate seeking support from Latino voters.

On the flip side, any negative messaging from the group could pose a setback for a campaign.

The union endorsed then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDemocrats: The road to kumbaya Sanders calls James Carville ‘a political hack’ New Hampshire Democratic primary did what it was supposed to do MORE ahead of the state’s 2008 caucuses, but did not endorse a candidate in 2016. Former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats: The road to kumbaya New Hampshire Democratic primary did what it was supposed to do Fox’s Napolitano: Roger Stone ‘absolutely entitled’ to new trial after juror’s tweets revealed MORE won the caucuses in 2016, with Sanders a close second at 47 percent.

While the union has once again decided against endorsing a candidate, Sanders nonetheless took a hit.

Earlier this week, the Culinary Union distributed a flyer to its 60,000 members that said his health care plan would “End Culinary Healthcare.” Under Medicare for All, private health insurance would be replaced across the board with a government-run plan.

The Culinary Union drew swift backlash online from Sanders supporters, so much so that the group issued a statement on Wednesday denouncing the candidate’s backers for “viciously” attacking the union.

That, in turn, prompted many of Sanders’s opponents to seize momentum on the public feud.

“I stand with the working men and women of @Culinary226 because supporting labor means supporting our unions,” tweeted former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenYang: NYC should implement universal basic income Majority of voters say Hunter Biden’s job at Burisma was ‘inappropriate’: poll Impeachment demonstrates dire need for term limits MORE, an opponent of Medicare for All.

Fellow moderates Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharYang: NYC should implement universal basic income While Klobuchar surges, Warren flounders The Hill’s Campaign Report: Rising Klobuchar, Buttigieg face test in diverse states MORE (D-Minn.) and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegYang: NYC should implement universal basic income Trump reveals he would vote for a gay presidential candidate While Klobuchar surges, Warren flounders MORE, fresh off strong showings in the New Hampshire primary, also jumped to the union’s defense.

“I stand with @Culinary226 and let’s be clear: attacks on the union are unacceptable. I come from a family of proud union members and I know when unions are strong, America is strong,” Klobuchar tweeted.

Buttigieg, meanwhile, took the opportunity to appeal to unions and promote his own health plan.

“There are 14 million union workers in America who have fought hard for strong, employer-provided health benefits,” Buttigieg tweeted. “Medicare for All Who Want It protects their plans and union members’ freedom to choose the coverage that’s best for them.”

Even Tom SteyerTom Fahr SteyerYang: NYC should implement universal basic income The Hill’s Campaign Report: Rising Klobuchar, Buttigieg face test in diverse states The state of the Democratic primary: Heading to a brokered convention?   MORE joined the fray on Thursday, releasing a statement calling on Sanders to disclose the price tag of Medicare for All. Steyer said his own proposal would “protect the the health plans that unions have fought hard to secure for their members, especially here in Nevada.”

Sanders has been trying to smooth over some of the tensions between the union and his supporters ever since news of the union’s flyer was first reported by the Nevada Independent.

Sanders’s campaign initially responded to the flyer by saying it was incorrect, and that Medicare for All coverage would be as good or better than what unions currency receive.

Sanders has noted his Medicare for All bill includes a provision that would enable companies to push savings they obtain from Medicare for All to workers in the form of either higher wages or other benefits. But some unions have been skeptical.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Wednesday, Sanders touted his labor bonafides.

“I have a lot more union support than Pete Buttigieg has or I think ever will have,” Sanders said, adding that “many many unions in this county…absolutely understand that we have to move to Medicare for All.”

Sanders said in a statement the following day that he agreed with the Nevada union’s key goals. 

“As someone who has the strongest lifetime pro-labor record of anyone in Congress, I would never do anything to diminish the health care that unions and workers have fought for,” he said.

Sander also addressed the online harassment from some of his supporters. 

“Harassment of all forms is unacceptable to me, and we urge supporters of all campaigns not to engage in bullying or ugly personal attacks,” he said. “We can certainly disagree on issues, but we must do it in a respectful manner.

Sanders enjoys the most labor support of all the 2020 Democratic candidates, with over 15 endorsements, including National Nurses United and the Postal Workers Union, as well as a handful of local chapters of Unite Here, the national organization of Nevada’s Culinary Union.

The National Nurses Union cited Medicare for All plan as one of the reasons for its endorsement.

Yet while some unions have supported the ambitious health care overhaul, others are not on board. 

The Culinary Union plays a unique role in its members’ health care, and there are concerns about the role it would play under a Medicare for All system.

Union members receive insurance through a nonprofit trust, funded mainly by the employers under contract with Unite Here unions — like casinos and hotels. It offers coverage for over 130,000 members and their dependents.

At Thursday’s press conference, Argüello-Kline held back on further criticisms of Sanders and instead referred back to the flier describing the candidates’ positions.

“We will endorse our goals, we’re not going to endorse a political candidate,” Argüello-Kline said. “We respect every single political candidate right now.”

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