Some Stories Shouldn’t Stay in Vegas

Labor Organizing Organizing

ap391840591794New Orleans   There are some stories from the last election that should speak more to our future than any nostalgia for the past. One big story is from Las Vegas, and it’s not a story that should stay there, but one that should travel everywhere, although it may be too late.

In the butt whipping administered by Donald Trump and Republicans throughout much of the country, there was one battleground state where Democrats turned the tables and that was in Nevada. There are always many parents of victories, but there is no way to ignore the fact that one of the strongest local labor unions in the country is located among service workers in Las Vegas hotels and casinos, the impressive Culinary Workers, Local 226, affiliated with UNITE HERE. Their work is getting major credit for the fact that two House districts held by Republicans were upended and moved to the Democratic column, Harry Reid’s long contested seat in the US Senate was retained with the election of a Latina, Catherine Cortez Masto, and the party gained control of state legislative bodies. Oh, and Hillary Clinton won the state as well, by the way.

How did it happen? D. Taylor the longtime head of the Vegas local and now the president of the national union was straightforward, saying,

“It meant going door to door, talking to people, listening to people, trying to move people. I think that’s very, very doable. That’s what Democrats and labor used to do.”

The union believes their work contributed more than 50,000 votes. Once again we hear the refrain, door knocking, door knocking, and more door knocking, but there’s also an edge to the sentence when Brother Taylor notes that it’s “what Democrats and labor used to do.” In some ways that’s Taylor’s warning that comes with this accomplishment.

Given the results in some of the rust belt states where Trump even won a majority of union members’ votes, as much as many might hope Vegas could be a model, it may be too late. Few locals in the Midwest – or anywhere else — are as large and concentrated as the almost 50,000 members of the Culinary Workers in Las Vegas. Few are as politically active in races from the bottom of the ballot to the top. Few are as aggressive in organizing and policing their jurisdictions. None have built this kind of membership in a right-to-work environment where Culinary has thrived taking its members from hotel referral to training programs to their work on the job in some of the most creative and effective bargaining programs anywhere in the country thanks to both John Wilhelm and D. Taylor and their stewardship as presidents of the local over the last several decades.

The AFL-CIO in the last weeks before the election touted the fact that they would have more than one-hundred thousand people on the doors in the battleground states, and that was welcome news. There is a difference though between a last-ditch election push and the day-to-day work of the Culinary Workers in Vegas in every election where they have an interest and it’s the difference between a day tripper and a powerhouse.

A local like the Culinary Workers is not built in a day or even in four years. As the clock winds down on labor’s capacity, it is almost too late to create this culture for many locals, but the work needs to start today. Members will do the work and the doors are waiting, but it takes leadership and resources, both of which are desperately needed now.