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New York Times Catches Culinary Workers Union Leadership Discouraging Members From Supporting Sanders

A representative from the Culinary Workers Union discouraged a member, who supports Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, from talking to the press. New York Times reporters witnessed the encounter.

The union member, Amigdia, was counseled by the union representative. When he spoke to the Times, he was enthusiastic about why he planned to vote for Sanders. Later, a Times reporter followed up with him and he no longer sounded as assertive. In fact, he seemed confused about what to say about Sanders.

Voters are set to participate in the Nevada caucuses on February 22, but for the first time, they have had an opportunity to participate in multiple days of early voting.

The Culinary Workers Union did not endorse a candidate, but union leadership distributed literature to members that explicitly suggested if Sanders is elected president he will “require” Medicare For All and take away their union health care. In fact, they lumped Sanders in with President Donald Trump as candidates who must be opposed.

For the Times’ weekly podcast, “The Field,” where the newspaper’s political reporters travel throughout the United States to speak with voters about the election, they highlighted this so-called feud that was largely instigated by the leadership of the Culinary Workers Union.

When Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the secretary-treasurer, was asked about this encounter that Times reporters witnessed, Bethany Khan, the union’s communications director, interrupted the interview and accused Jenny Medina, one of the New York Times reporters, of making blatant accusations that were “unacceptable.”

“We don’t tell them anything. We haven’t endorsed. It’s mostly about making sure that they know their rights and protecting them on the work. We’ve talked about this, Jenny, before. I think you’ve accused me blatantly, and I think that’s not acceptable,” Khan stated.

Argüello-Kline added, “We don’t have a policy to say don’t talk to the press and like that with the union rep in there.” She claimed she did not know why a union representative spoke with the Sanders supporter the way the representative did.

In the same episode released on February 21, Austin Mitchell, a Time reporter, asks Amigdia who he voted for. “Number one, Bernie. Bernie Sanders.”

Amigdia has been in the union for 29 years. He is in his sixties and works at the Golden Nugget casino, where he cleans carpets, polishes marble, and does other labor. “We love Bernie,” he adds.

As Mitchell reports a talking point in the Culinary Workers Union literature about Bernie “replacing” their health care with Medicare For All, Amigdia replies, “No, no, I think that it’s a better system, you know, it’s for all. Not for a few people. It’s for all people.”

He is not worried about his health care plan being changed. “It’s okay because the minority people get access. A lot of people don’t have access now.”

As the reporters say goodbye, a woman who was standing around while they talked with him follows Amigdia to his car.

The show notes, “Somebody from the union is here kind of monitoring—and there’s lots of press here so it’s kind of easy to understand why—but they’re kind of listening to the conversations and then they follow after the conversations seem to be following up with them I presume [to] ask them what they said.”

Two days later, Medina contacts Amigdia. He does not speak the same way. He is confused and recalls that he was told not to talk to the press by himself. He is “indignant” and says that he knows his rights.

Medina asks if the union representative mentioned Sanders. He suggests she did in the course of talking about health care, although it is tough to entirely understand him.

“Amigdia is not the only person who has told me that the union has discouraged them from speaking with the press,” according to “The Field.”

While talking with Argüello-Kline, Medina asked, “Would you discourage somebody, a member, who supports Sanders from speaking to the press?”

“That’s their business, not mine. What I put to you is the facts. What is the health care for you, and what is protecting your health care, and what is not protecting your health care,” Argüello-Kline replied. “You decide. We are upset at the way we’ve been treated. I can show you the texts that my daughter sent me last night. You have to, look. Read this. This is from my daughter. This is from [a] follower of Senator Sanders.”

“Fuck off Geoconda. If Sanders loses and we don’t get Medicare For All and a union worker gets cancer and gets fired and he dies, their blood will be on Geoconda Argüello-Kline, who for selfish reasons decided to spread these lies,” the text message said.

Argüello-Kline maintained it was not right for a mother to see this. “I’m very upset. And I’m going to keep talking, and nobody is going to quiet me. Nobody. This is what they’re doing to minorities. This is what they are doing to women of color.”

But Medina told her there are “also Bernie supporters, who are women of color.”

“They attack this woman of color, too. And you know why they attack us Jenny? Because we put the facts. They’re not going to put tape on my mouth.”

When asked what she would say to women of color who support Bernie Sanders, Argüello-Kline responded, “Do you really fight for the real movement? That’s my only question.”

Argüello-Kline’s comment was similar to remarks that were often heard in 2016, when Sanders opposed Hillary Clinton. For example, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said there was a “special place in hell” for women who did not support Clinton.

As POLITICO previously noted, the Culinary Workers Union and its affiliates “represent some 60,000 workers in the restaurant and hospitality industries in Las Vegas and Reno. It is also the largest immigrant organization in the state, with Latinos accounting for more than half of its membership, and it is a major source of voter mobilization.”

The Culinary Health Fund is what is known as a multi-employer Taft-Hartley Fund. It pays for health insurance coverage for members through collective bargaining agreements.

Employer trustees for the Culinary Health Fund include executives from Boyd Gaming, Caesars Palace, Hilton Worldwide, Hostmark Hospitality Group, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, The Mirage, Sodexo, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Tishman Hotel Corporation, and Geneva HRM Advisors, which is involved in corporate labor relations.

All of these companies, which are part of the casino and gaming industry, have an interest in maintaining the status quo when it comes to health care because if workers were not focused on protecting their health care, they would have more leverage to demand higher wages, better pensions, and improved workplace conditions.

The Culinary Workers Union was contacted for additional comment but did not respond.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."