By Danielle Wallace
Published December 11, 2019
Bernie Sanders faced pushback from union members in Las Vegas on Tuesday over how the Democratic presidential candidate would fund a government-subsidized health care plan that would force union members to forfeit the benefits they’ve spent years bargaining for.
The 77-year-old independent U.S. senator from Vermont addressed a town hall meeting hosted by Culinary Union Local 226 and its parent union, Unite Here. Though union members in the crowd were widely supportive of Sanders – shouting “Bernie! Bernie!” as he wheeled out his stance on immigration, criminal justice and climate change – a group of about 12 people began to heckle the senator when he came to health care, according to the Washington Examiner.
“We have, in this country, a dysfunctional, broken and cruel health care system,” Sanders told the audience, according to the Las Vegas Sun. “We spend twice as much per person on health care as do the people of any other country.”
Elodia Muñoz -- one of 550 Culinary members to strike against the Frontier hotel for more than six years between 1991 and 1998 – questioned why she should vote for a candidate who supports Medicare-for-All after all her effort, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. Under the government plan, all Americans, including union members, would lose private insurance plans.
During Sanders’ response, the crowd began to chant: “Union health care! Union health care!" One man also shouted: "How are you gonna pay for it?"
In his bid for the party’s presidential nomination, Biden has called for allowing employees to keep their current health plans, positioning himself against Warren and Sanders who’ve both advocated for Medicare-for-All. The International Association of Firefighters, which has endorsed Biden, has called Medicare-for-All a non-starter, according to the Examiner.
"You'll be able to keep your negotiated plans," Biden told a group of union members in August. "You've worked like hell, you gave up wages for it."
Warren has recently backed away from her once-orthodox approach toward a government-run health care system after seeing her poll numbers deteriorate over the past month in national surveys and, more importantly, in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states to hold contests in the primary and caucus presidential nominating calendar.
Speaking in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Sanders discussed his efforts to pass legislation throughout his career that aligns with union issues, including raising the minimum wage, forcing employers to recognize union elections and deterring corporate greed. He also cited his experience negotiating with companies that employ Unite Here workers, such as American Airlines. Still, union benefits remain the main factor that keeps membership high.
Culinary Union President Ted Pappageorge later chastised the crowd for heckling Sanders.
“We’re gonna let candidates speak without any kind of heckling. If you want to heckle, go outside and heckle. We want to learn. The town halls are to learn. Frankly, not to learn from the hecklers, but the candidates," Pappageorge told the crowd. "Second, I want to be very clear to everybody, this union stands very strongly that every American deserves to have good, quality health care. It’s a right, it should never be a privilege in this country.”