Harris first to make presidential pitch to gaming industry’s top labor group

Harris first to make presidential pitch to gaming industry’s top labor group

  • Howard Stutz
November 13, 2019 1:00 AM

The non-descript Culinary Workers Local 226 complex tucked into the aging “Naked City” area of downtown Las Vegas is front and center for Democratic presidential candidates to lay bare their platforms.

It’s become a right-of-passage every four years for candidates to hold a town hall event inside the second-floor meeting hall. The local represents more than 60,000 non-gaming workers in casinos throughout Southern Nevada, and the membership turns out to vote in large numbers. The union is one of the most powerful endorsements in Nevada Democratic politics.

California Senator Kamala Harris became the first official presidential candidate to hold a town hall with union members ahead of Nevada’s Feb. 22 presidential caucus. The Silver State is 2020’s third scheduled nominating event behind Iowa’s caucuses (Feb. 3) and the New Hampshire primary (Feb. 11). As Nevada political pundit Jon Ralston likes to say, “#WeMatter.”

Expect other candidates to follow in the next few months.

D. Taylor, president of the national UNITE HERE – the Culinary’s parent organization – who served as the Las Vegas local’s top official for parts of three decades, estimated he’s introduced more than two dozen presidential candidates at the union hall.

Kamala Harris addresses a question from Mario Sandoval as D. Taylor watches/Photo by Howard Stutz

Taylor was there Friday to welcome Harris, praising her union bonafides, which included declining to cross a UNITE HERE picket line at a hotel where she was to be honored by a women’s leadership conference. He also pointed out that Harris is the daughter of two immigrants, which resonated with many of the union members and families in the audience.

The Culinary is considered the state’s largest immigrant organization; its members come from 178 countries and speak more than 40 different languages. The union touts having helped more than 18,000 immigrants become American citizens – and new voters – since 2001.

Many of Nevada’s current Democratic office holders – including Governor Steve Sisolak, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen and Representatives Steven Horsford and Susie Lee – credit the Culinary’s backing with helping them across the finish line.

In 2008, the Culinary endorsed then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama for president, which was seen as an early success in his campaign against Hillary Clinton.

During her hour-long discussion, Harris touched on a variety of topics, but two struck home with the union. She said the Culinary’s “extraordinary” health insurance plan would not be eliminated by her Medicare for All proposal. She also directed a few blows toward Station Casinos, the union’s major union organizing target since 2011.

Workers at seven Station Casinos properties have voted for Culinary representation. However, Station Casinos and its parent Red Rock Resorts have yet to conduct contract negotiations and are appealing the elections in federal court.

Presidential candidate Kamala Harris at Culinary Local 226/Photo by Howard Stutz

In response to a Palace Station worker’s question, Harris said she wouldn’t support a bill that would give the company, headed by CEO Frank Fertitta III, a tax break.

“I’m with you in terms of standing with the workers,” Harris said in between chants of “2-2-6, 2-2-6” to rally the membership. “What they’ve been doing at Station Casinos is wrong. I applaud your leadership.”

It wasn’t a good week for Fertitta. Two days earlier, Red Rock Resorts said it lost $26.8 million in the third quarter due to the closure of the high-priced Kaos dayclub/nightclub at the Palms, which has undergone nearly $690 million in renovations. The gaming company will be a punching bag for any candidate visiting the Culinary ahead of the caucuses.

Union leaders told Associated Press they have met privately with most of the presidential candidates, but Harris was the first to be invited to a town hall. The Culinary settled all its contract negotiations with Las Vegas casinos last year, and the union is gearing up for an active 2020 campaign season.

There are other gaming issues Democratic presidential candidates need to address.

Harris had bit of a rocky relationship with tribal casinos in California when she was running for the U.S. Senate in 2016 after serving as the state’s Attorney General. Some of the politically active and influential tribes initially held back on financial backing early in her campaign due to her office’s opposition to federal applications to add acreage to their tribal lands, which could be used for casinos.

Last month she released a presidential agenda for tribal nations that included adding more than 500,000 acres of land into trust for federally recognized tribes.

In May, Harris told the Nevada Independent that her primary concerns with online gaming were making sure children were not involved in the activity and combating gaming addictions. She didn’t address the Department of Justice’s efforts to reverse a 2011 opinion on the Federal Wire Act that would outlaw online gaming.

Harris’s staff didn’t provide CDC Gaming Reports with her position on a proposed bill backed by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, that would establish federal guidelines for sports wagering.

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at hstutz@cdcgamingreports.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.