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Democratic presidential contenders join Culinary Union picket line at Palms casino

Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden walks the Culinary Worker Union Local 226 picket line with Geoconda Arguello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer for the Culinary in front of the Palms hotel-casino on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

In a sometimes-chaotic scene this morning, five of the seven leading Democratic presidential candidates joined a picket line of hundreds of members from a handful of Las Vegas casino worker unions hours before tonight’s Democratic presidential debate.

The Palms Casino Resort, owned by Station Casinos, has long rebuffed unionization and counterprogrammed Wednesday’s picketing with a marquee boasting messages such as “free healthcare for the whole family” and “company paid retirement plan.”

Station Casinos is owned by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta — financial supporters of President Donald Trump and other Republican causes — and have long tangled with the state’s culinary workers union. The union says that Station Casino employees have voted in three National Labor Relations elections to join the union.

In a statement released after the picket, Station Casinos announced it would offer an “enhanced benefits package,” including a free health care plan to employees making less than $41,600 or $20 per hour, as part of its “Family Focused” initiative.

The notable exception to the presidential procession was newly-minted frontrunner Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose single-payer-style Medicare for all plan has drawn sharp criticism from the Culinary Union with just days remaining before Nevada’s presidential caucuses this Saturday. 

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren walks the Culinary Worker Union Local 226 picket line in front of the Palms hotel/casino on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

First to arrive was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who made several loops along the picket lines, at one time hoisting a Culinary Union sign emblazoned with the words “No Contract, No Peace.”

Upon her arrival, Warren — like the rest of the presidential hopefuls who would arrive throughout the morning — was swarmed by more than two dozen members of the press, who jockeyed for a spot to walk alongside the senator and often squeezed or stalled the progress of the picket line itself. 

That process repeated itself upon the arrival of former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and California billionaire Tom Steyer, each of whom walked alongside the picket line for 10 to 15 minutes before making their exits. 

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar walks the Culinary Worker Union Local 226 picket line in front of the Palms hotel/casino on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Among the five candidates who joined the picket, only former Vice President Biden took a brief detour from the proceedings to speak to the assembled press — and take aim at billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who has surged in recent polls and at the last minute qualified for Wednesday night’s debate in Las Vegas. 

“Well I’ll tell you what, I’m just going to tell the truth,” Biden said. “Truth is [Bloomberg’s] been a Republican his whole life. The fact of the matter is he didn’t endorse Barack [Obama] or me when we ran. This is a guy using Barack’s pictures like they’re buddies. I’m going to talk about his record.”

Biden’s comments refer to a number of advertisements from Bloomberg that have used images of Obama in effort to tie the popular ex-president to his insurgent bid for the Democratic nomination. 

Updated, 2:30 p.m. - This story was updated to include a statement from Station Casinos on its newly-announced health care plan.

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