WASHINGTON -- Nevada's powerful Culinary Workers union on Thursday declined to endorse a Democratic presidential candidate ahead of the state's Feb. 22 caucus, depriving Joe Biden of an organizational boost.
The omission comes at a time when his campaign needed a jolt of energy following a fourth-place finish in Iowa and a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire.
"The official announcement is we are going to endorse our goals," said the union's secretary-treasurer, Geoconda Arguello-Kline. "We're not going to endorse a candidate."
The union had criticized Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All proposal, which it had warned would replace the healthcare benefits the labor group has negotiated over the years.
The union has 60,000 members in Las Vegas and Reno, more than half of whom are Latino. In 2016, 84,000 people participated in the Democratic caucus statewide, meaning that a successful effort by the union to convince its members to caucus for its chosen candidate could have a significant effect on the results of this year's caucus.
A key issue for the union is its Culinary Health Fund, which provides benefits to more than 130,000 people including its members and their dependents. The union is fiercely protective of its insurance program and has warned members that Medicare for All plans like the one supported by Sanders would eliminate that benefit.
Earlier this week, the union issued a one-page handout to members warning them of "presidential candidates suggesting forcing millions of hard-working people to give up their healthcare." After it began distributing the document, Sanders supporters had "viciously attacked" the union, Arguello-Kline said in a statement Wednesday.
With its handout, the union was conveying "facts on what certain healthcare proposals might do to take away the system of care we have built over 8 decades," Arguello-Kline said. "We have always stood up for what we believe in and will continue to do so."
On Thursday, Sanders angled to appear supportive of the union, using a tweet to back its efforts to negotiate with UHS Inc., parent company of a local hospital.
In 2016, the union declined to endorse either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders because of concerns that an endorsement would strain resources just ahead of its contract negotiations.
In 2008, Barack Obama received the union's support but Clinton won seven of nine caucuses held at casinos along the Las Vegas Strip after Bill and Chelsea Clinton campaigned aggressively through its cafeterias and break rooms. Ultimately, Clinton won more votes statewide while Obama won more delegates to the Democratic nominating convention.
The union's headquarters are an early caucus site for four days beginning Saturday.
(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)
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