Sen. Bernard Sanders’ presidential campaign worked Thursday to beat back attacks from labor unions that fear his “Medicare for All” could undo the Cadillac health care plans they have negotiated.
In Nevada, the powerful Local 226 of the Culinary Workers Union, which represents workers at Las Vegas’ major casinos and hotels, has sent two flyers in recent days to its 60,000 members warning them Mr. Sanders is a threat to the union’s health insurance.
While the union says it has been “viciously attacked” for its position, it did not rescind it.
The Sanders campaign has countered the argument that government-run Medicare for All would eliminate good policies by saying that taking health care off the table in collective bargaining would free up more money for workers in the form of wages.
Mr. Sanders tweeted his support for the union Thursday despite the apparent rejection of his platform and excoriated local Valley Hospital for making big profits but not agreeing to the union’s contract proposals.
“I stand with @Culinary226 fighting for health care, a pension and fair wages,” he tweeted.
His campaign issued a similar statement Thursday afternoon.
“I very much appreciate the struggle that the Culinary Union is waging to improve the lives of working families in Nevada and throughout this country, and I agree with their key goals,” Mr. Sanders’ statement read.
He offered no moderation on Medicare for All, however, insisting “we must provide guaranteed health care for all.”
The union’s flyers inform members that some Democratic candidates take a less drastic stance toward private health insurance but that Mr. Sanders seeks to end it outright. The union reportedly provides health coverage to 130,000 members and dependents.
The union’s move comes less than two weeks before Nevada holds its 2020 presidential caucuses Feb. 22, and just days after a strong showing in New Hampshire appeared to cement Mr. Sanders as a front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
In the flyers, the union drew a contrast between Mr. Sanders and former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and billionaire Tom Steyer, who the union said would “protect Culinary Healthcare.”
Mr. Buttigieg, who ran neck-and-neck with Mr. Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire, seized on the union’s remarks to paint Mr. Sanders as too radical a choice.
In a bilingual tweet Thursday recognizing the sizable Hispanic membership of Unite Here Local 226, Mr. Buttigieg said he is with union members and “their fight for better wages, world class health care, and the American dream for working and immigrant families.”
“No one should ever attack them for fighting and delivering for their members,” Mr. Buttigieg added in an apparent reference to the chapter’s claim it has endured abuse in phone calls and social media.
In 2016, the union did not endorse a candidate in the caucuses, although it was a firm supporter of Hillary Clinton in the general election. That year, Mr. Sanders captured 47% of the Nevada caucus vote.
“Medicare for All” is one of Mr. Sanders’ principal campaign issues, pushing hard for government control of health care, with no option for private insurance. Other candidates, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have embraced Medicare for All in principle while trying to create some wriggle room for its implementation.
That’s a distinction the union points out to its members in emails and tweets. The union sent two such announcements via email and Twitter in three days, with the second including a chart outlining the candidates’ positions on a number of issues including health care.
In the past, the union was considered a cog in former Sen. Harry Reid’s political machine, and thus it has strong ties to the Democratic Party leadership.
The liberal American Prospect dubbed the union’s move part of “a coordinated attack” and characterized it as a serious blow to Mr. Sanders.
“This presents a new challenge for Sanders, with an attack on his signature issue coming from part of the labor movement, which he has championed for decades,” David Dayen wrote at the website this week.
A voice message Thursday said the union chapter was closed because of an electrical problem, and did not respond to an email request for comment.
• James Varney can be reached at email@example.com.
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