A Latinx-majority hospitality worker union’s organizing “clearly had an impact” in the midterm elections in Nevada, Jon Ralston of the Nevada Independent tells NPR, helping power a flood of Democratic victories throughout the state, including Democratic Congress member Jacky Rosen’s defeat of Republican Dean Heller, a Donald Trump ally. “They have a remarkable machine,” Ralston said about The Culinary Workers Union, which represents thousands of workers along the Las Vegas strip. “And I don't think that should be underestimated.”
According to a press release, the 57,000-strong union’s “political field team knocked on over 370,000 doors in Las Vegas and Reno and had quality one-on-on conversations with approximately 80,000 voters across Nevada statewide,” and got out “digital ads targeting Nevada voters reminding them to vote,” including bilingual ads and video ads that generated millions of views.
It showed. In the 2016 presidential race, thanks to the union’s work (“what Culinary does, and the way they organize in Nevada, is the model for voter mobilization in the country,” said immigrant rights leader Frank Sharry), “Nevada Democrats made sweeping gains even as the rest of the blue wall tipped red,” Mother Jones reported, including the election of Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate.
In 2018, Culinary members continued their work, spending up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, signing up workers for the union’s regular citizenship fair, helping U.S. citizens with voter registration forms, and sharing materials in multiple languages, representing the union’s diverse membership. “They have figured it out,” Sharry continued. “They get people in a room, they methodically organize targets and coordinate who’s gonna take what precincts. They hold each other accountable and they deliver.”
While Rosen also championed Nevada voters’ top concerns, including protecting people with pre-existing conditions, Ralston added that he believes Trump’s “harsh rhetoric on immigration,” including a pre-Election Day attack on birthright citizenship, “generated some turnout” among Latinx voters. Notably, just days after campaigning onstage together, a “frustrated” Heller wouldn’t even mention the words “birthright citizenship” in a response to Trump’s attack. Rosen, unlike Heller, never wavered on defending immigrant families. “If Republicans choose to double down with Trump’s hateful brand of politics,” the Las Vegas Sun warned, “they risk losing not only in 2020 but well beyond.”
“We'll know more” about the power of the Latinx vote “when more data rolls in,” Ralston said, but felt confident enough in his own column to officially declare Nevada blue. “I have argued that Nevada is a key swing state in presidential contests because of our relatively close voter registration numbers, and the contenders and parties, based on candidate visits and money spent, have agreed. No more. At least not for now. And smart GOP operatives, here and in D.C., are starting to realize this, too, in the wake of Tuesday’s results.”
“This victory and historic turnout would not be possible without the the largest organized field team in Nevada who fought hard to protect our families,” said Culinary Union secretary-treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline. “350 UNITE HERE and Culinary Union guest room attendants, bartenders, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks, and kitchen workers, canvassed in Las Vegas and Washoe neighborhoods since May. We are proud to have mobilized tens of thousands of hospitality workers and immigrant voters to elect politicians who will fight for our community.”