Backing off threat, key Nevada union goes all-in for Democrats


It’s not exactly the cavalry coming over the Spring Mountains in Las Vegas, but President Obama and fellow Democrats will be getting some important help in Nevada from the Culinary Workers Union, a potent political force that was threatening to sit out the November election.

In an interview last spring, the union chief, D. Taylor, expressed frustration that Democrats had not done more to help Culinary Local 226 in a long, bitter organizing battle with Station Casinos, the owner of several nonunion slot palaces.

With 54,000 members -- the people who make the beds, sweep the floors and sling the hash in Nevada’s union casinos -- Local 226 has been major cog in the state’s Democratic political machine. The union’s intensive voter registration and turnout operations were important to Obama’s 2008 landslide victory in Nevada and, especially, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hard-fought 2010 reelection win.


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Taylor said at the time the union had other priorities apart from politics, starting with its expired labor contracts and ongoing fight with Station. “We can’t do all three things,” Taylor said at the time. “We can only do two.”

Some Democrats -- and savants like Nevada’s uber political analyst Jon Ralston -- suggestedthat Taylor, a notoriously hard bargainer, had been bluffing all along.

But Taylor said in an interview this weekend that things had changed. He said the union had reached contract agreements covering three-quarters of its membership and the remainder should be wrapped up soon, freeing the local to go all-in for the final six weeks of the campaign.

“I said we couldn’t do three things at once,” Taylor said. “We can do two.”

He expressed continued unhappiness that Democrats -- and Reid in particular -- have not done more to help the union in its standoff with Station Casinos. The senator has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the casino’s owners and employees, giving him friends on both sides of the fight.

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But, Taylor said, the November stakes were too high for the union to take a walk on the election.


“The Republicans left us no choice,” Taylor said. “We’re a little later to the game than usual, but we’re fully engaged.”

In 2008, the union had more than 100 people working full time for three months on the presidential campaign. Taylor said the union, which is heavily Latino, will have 80 full-time workers deployed this time, focusing on registration and get-out-the-vote efforts.

(While the outcome in Nevada is expected to be much closer this time, Obama has opened a small but steady lead, as this article explained.)

In addition to being a presidential battleground, Nevada has a closely contested U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Dean Heller and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley; the outcome could be important in determining whether Reid continues as the Senate’s majority leader after Nov. 6.

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