Presidential candidates must woo Latino-heavy union vote to win Nevada

Laura Javier is a union baby and proud of it.

A gourmet vendor at Jean Philippe Patisserie inside the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, Javier comes from a long tradition of union members — her parents have been part of Nevada's Culinary Workers Union Local 226 for over 20 years and her grandfather was in the same union until he retired at the age of 70. Javier herself joined the union when she turned 18, the same year she started her job at the Bellagio.

The 24-year-old's story is common throughout the Las Vegas area, where some 55,000 cooks, housekeepers, cocktail waitresses and others workers are part of the union, making it one of the most powerful and loudest voices in town. And now with election season coming into full swing, the concerns of this union are on the minds of every presidential candidate trying to secure this crucial early voting state.

"I think we can play a determining role in the election season," Yvanna Cancela, the political director for Culinary 226, told Fox News Latino. "Our members are voters who are highly targeted by candidates and historically we've played a determining role in deciding who wins Nevada."

What Cancela means by "highly targeted" is that Local 226 members live in the crucial voting area of Clark County – home to Las Vegas and 2 million of the state's 2.8 million residents – and a majority of the members, about 52 percent, are Latino. Winning Clark County all but guarantees a win in Nevada. Historically, candidates who win the area do it with the help of Culinary 226.

Nevada’s demographic makeup may be similar to neighboring states like Texas and Arizona – which have large Latino and immigrant populations – but its workforce thinks more in line with the working-class, union strongholds in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

"The union factor makes Nevada unique from states with similar Latino demographics like Arizona and Texas," David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and a pollster for Latino Decisions, told FNL.

Democratic candidates appear to have the upper hand in the fight for Culinary 226 given that the union vote traditionally goes to the Democrats as does Nevada's heavily Mexican-American Latino vote.

That doesn't mean that Democratic contenders like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley have secured the union vote.

Sanders, O'Malley and Clinton – who has made frequent stops in the Silver States – spoke in August at the state's AFL-CIO convention and O'Malley joined members of Culinary 226 later in the month in their protest against Trump International Hotel, which has blocked efforts to unionize.

Despite the historical bonds between unions and the Democratic Party, the GOP presidential hopefuls appear to be down but not out of the fight to win over Local 226 and the state's other unions.

There is anger among many union members over Clinton's ambiguity on issues like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and whether to raise the federal minimum wage to $15, and there are doubts that either Sanders or O'Malley have the ability to win the presidency.

The most pressing issue for Culinary 226 members, however, is the so-called "Cadillac tax" on the health care plans of union members. The tax, named so because it applies to more comprehensive, high-end health insurance plans – will impose a 40 percent levy on the excess cost of plans above $10,200 for individual coverage and $27,500 for family coverage.

The tax is expected to affect up to one-third to one-half of employers when it goes into effect in 2018 and up to 60 percent by 2022.

"Health care is just so important to myself, my family and to our union as a whole," Javier told FNL. "Definitely one thing I do not agree with is the fact that we're being taxed 40 percent for our health insurance."

The union is also concerned about the Republican Party and part of that has less to do with their stance on Obamacare or no worker's rights and more to do with the immigration issue.

With 52 percent of union members being Latino – and many being immigrants – Culinary 226's Cancela said that many of the union's members have family and friends who are undocumented and that immigration is a lens through which members view other issues.

"We have an extremely large immigrant workforce so immigration is a topic that they want to hear about," she said.

Nevada as a whole is 27 percent Hispanic and soon could become a majority-minority state largely on the backs of Latino migration. Some experts say that any candidate hoping to secure Nevada needs to have an immigration plan that Latinos support.

While Clinton has made bold promises, some say that they worry it will be a repeat of the Obama administration, where promises of comprehensive immigration reform have gone mostly unfulfilled.

"Everything falls under the umbrella of immigration reform," Fernando Romero, the president of the Las Vegas-based Hispanics in Politics, told FNL. "People kid themselves saying that immigration is fourth or fifth on the list of issues that are important to Latinos, when really it is No. 1."

These sentiments were echoed by numerous members –Latino and non-Latino – of Culinary 226 and portrayed during their protest on a sweltering day outside of the controversial Donald Trump's hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.

"I came from Mexico many years ago and became an American citizen to have a better opportunity for me and my family," Maria Jaramillo, a housekeeper at the Trump Las Vegas, said. "This country is a nation of immigrants, and we all work hard and deserve to be treated fairly."

The issues may be front and center for union members, but even they admit that Election Day is still a long way off and that their votes are far from decided – which is good news to both Democratic candidates hoping to reassure these voters they have their interests in mind and Republicans trying to win over a powerful new voting bloc.

"I think I have a lot of time to do my research and make my decision," Javier said. "I also think that the candidates may have a change in thoughts in the year we have left."