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Geoconda Arguello-Kline, left, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union speaks during a press conference on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. Nevada's largest union announced that they will not endorse a Democratic presidential candidate in the primary. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

After months of hosting Democratic presidential hopefuls for town halls and playing coy about whether it would endorse in the race, the politically powerful Culinary Union has finally reached a decision.

It won’t be supporting anyone.

“The official announcement is we're going to endorse our goals, what we're doing. That's what we're going to endorse. We're not going to endorse a candidate, a political candidate,” Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline announced at the union’s headquarters Thursday afternoon. “We respect every single political candidate right now. We know they are great people.”

The endorsement news — or lack thereof — comes after months of speculation about whether the union, which represents roughly 60,000 hotel workers across Nevada and is known for turning the tides in close races, would tip its hand in the race. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has a longstanding relationship with the union and was thought to be a plausible pick for an endorsement, was the only candidate Arguello-Kline mentioned in her non-endorsement announcement.

“We know Vice President Biden for many years,” Arguello-Kline said. “We know he's been our friend. We know all these candidates and we respect each one for them, because they work really hard and they want the best.”

In a statement, Biden spokesman Vedant Patel said the campaign would continue to compete for “every vote that we can in Nevada,” including those of Culinary members.

Arguello-Kline said that union conducted a survey of its membership following the townhalls it hosted with Democratic presidential hopefuls over the last few months, but that members did not vote on the endorsement. She did not elaborate more on how, ultimately, the decision was reached.

Even with its non-endorsement, the union has shown that it won’t sit idly by in the race, circulating a flyer among its membership that takes particular aim at Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in saying that he wants to “end Culinary Healthcare” if elected president. Sanders favors a single-payer, government-run health insurance system, known as Medicare for all, that the union opposes on the grounds that it would eliminate their gold-standard union health plan.

Since the anti-Sanders flyer became public, the union says it has faced “vicious attacks” by the senator’s supporters in phone calls, tweets and text messages. A union spokeswoman said Thursday that the union has received “hundreds” of attacks, including threats to the personal safety of union leaders, and that she and Arguello-Kline have been doxxed.

In a tweet Thursday morning, Sanders said that he stands with the Culinary Union “fighting for health care, a pension and fair wages,” referencing a union tweet about a contract negotiation with Valley Hospital. Several of his opponents had chimed in more directly on the attacks against the union on Wednesday in tweets of their own.

Arguello-Kline, asked whether there was more the union wanted Sanders to say in the wake of the attacks, demurred.

“We respect Senator Sanders. We invited him to the union,” Arguello-Kline said. “We’re concentrated right now in keeping talking to our members about the situation, what are our goals. One job should be enough.”

In a statement after the union's announcement, Sanders said that he appreciates the Culinary Union's struggle, agrees with their goals, and "would never do anything to diminish the health care that unions and workers have fought for." He also condemned the harassment the union has faced.

"Harassment of all forms is unacceptable to me, and we urge supporters of all campaigns not to engage in bullying or ugly personal attacks," Sanders said. "Our campaign is building a multi-generational, multi-racial movement of love, compassion, and justice. We can certainly disagree on issues, but we must do it in a respectful manner."

During the press conference, Arguello-Kline also reiterated the union’s belief that health care is a universal right, so long that it doesn’t impinge on the union’s health care.

“We know and we believe every human being, they have the right to have health care but we believe we have to make choices too and everybody have the right to make choices,” Arguello-Kline said. “We believe in that. Our union believes in the democratic process.”

With a little more than a week until Nevada’s Feb. 22 Democratic presidential caucus, the union’s decision to not endorse levels the playing field among the more moderate candidates in the race that don’t support Medicare for all, who might have benefitted by a last-minute boost from the union’s endorsement. 

Though it is not endorsing, the union is still encouraging its members to turn out to vote in the caucus. For the first time, union members will be able to early vote at the union’s headquarters, as well as at various properties on the Las Vegas Strip. There are also several at-large precincts on Caucus Day in hotels on the Strip.

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