LAS VEGAS (AP) — Unite Here, the parent of the large Nevada union representing hotel and casino workers, announced Tuesday that it is not planning to endorse a candidate in the Democratic presidential primary.

A statement on the decision released Tuesday did not indicate whether the Culinary Union, the union's largest local, would issue its own endorsement before Nevada's Feb. 22 caucuses.

The Culinary, a 60,000-member group made up of housekeepers, bartenders, porters and others who work in the casino resorts, is considered one of the more influential forces in Democratic politics in the state. Democratic candidates have been aggressive in courting the group's support.

But the local sat out the 2016 Democratic primary after a divisive endorsement eight years earlier undermined its image as a well-oiled political machine.

In 2008, the union backed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. The move was a boon to Obama, who won more delegates in Nevada. But Clinton won the popular vote in the state and had a strong showing at the at-large caucus sites dominated by Culinary members working on the Las Vegas Strip.

Unite Here's leadership made the decision to stay neutral Tuesday during a leadership meeting in Atlanta, according to spokeswoman Annemarie Strassel.

In a statement, Unite Here said “any local endorsing in the primary will be weighing the candidates’ positions on the key economic justice issues for our Union, such as supporting the right to organize unions, immigration reform, criminal justice reform and reining in the price of healthcare.”

Ahead of the international union’s statement, the union’s Southern California affiliate, Unite Here Local 11, issued a joint endorsement Tuesday of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, saying the two liberal candidates have a “track record of standing with Local 11 members in their fights against corporate power.”

It was not the first Unite Here affiliate to wade into the presidential race. The union’s New York affiliate, the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, issued an endorsement in June 2019 of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who later dropped out of the presidential race.

The California union’s labor dispute with food service company Sodexo nearly derailed Democrats' December debate in Los Angeles. The union represented workers at the Loyola Marymount campus, which was set to host the debate, and workers were planning to picket the debate. The Democratic Party helped broker a settlement after all participating presidential candidates threatened to skip the event rather than cross a picket line.

Nationally, many unions have stayed on the sidelines in the primary, wary of endorsing anyone in such a divided field. Compounding the anxiety is bad blood over 2016, when several unions endorsed Clinton early in the contest only to see Sanders surge and hear complaints from members.

Unions now find themselves in a similar role to the broader Democratic electorate, still undecided between so many attractive options. "It's too early to tell -- we haven't seen the first votes cast," said Tim Schlittner, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO, which hasn't made an endorsement and doesn't know if it will. “There's excitement about this election among the labor movement, and we're taking a close look at all of the candidates and all of the plans and raising the bar really high.”

The Service Employees International Union is also still holding its fire. “The overwhelming majority of SEIU members are still undecided about who will best address their demands that the next president move power away from corporations and back towards working people," its president, Mary Kay Henry, said. "Just like voters across the country, they want to hear who is going to fight to ensure all families, no matter the color of their skin or where they were born, can thrive.”

Eddie Vale, a Democratic operative who has long worked in the labor movement, said unions may be hesitating because of "an embarrassment of riches for labor." In contrast to past cycles, the Democratic contenders have gone out of their way to tout their friendliness to unions. Labor doesn't "have to put all of their hopes and support into one candidate, and membership support is divided up between a lot of people, so the incentives push against endorsement," Vale said.

The exceptions have been the few international unions with long-standing ties to candidates who have endorsed, such as the International Association of Fire Fighters, which backed former Vice President Joe Biden, or the National Nurses United, a longtime supporter of Sanders that also endorsed him in 2016.


Riccardi reported from Denver.


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