Life after ‘right-to-work’: How one union flourishes in right-to-work Nevada

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Students in a professional cook class make hollandaise sauce as instructor Larry Baumann, far left, looks on at the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, Friday,...
Students in a professional cook class make hollandaise sauce as instructor Larry Baumann, far left, looks on at the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, Friday,...
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Union workers in Michigan, take heart: It’s not all over once your state goes “right-to-work.” In fact, at least one union local has positively thrived in a right-to-work state: UNITE HERE’s Culinary Workers Local 226, which represents roughly 60,000 hospitality workers in Las Vegas, Reno, and elsewhere.

“It’s a local of tremendous spirit,” Julius G. Getman, a University of Texas labor law professor and author of Restoring the Power of Unions, told msnbc. “It’s inspiring to be there because membership takes it so seriously.”

Though Local 226 has long been an active presence in Nevada labor politics, the union has recently garnered national attention due to the implications of its success. On December 17, the Associated Press ran a profile of Local 226 which suggested it might represent the “future of the American labor movement.” And in late November, the union’s secretary treasurer was elected to become president of the UNITE HERE international.

Despite the fact that Nevada is a “right-to-work” state—meaning that workers in Local 226 bargaining units can opt out of paying dues to the union—AP reports that more than 90% of workers represented by Local 226 pay full dues. Getman said that workers in the union possess “a tremendous sense of solidarity.”

“With regard to Local 226, there’s been unanimous support from the people I talk to,” he said. “They all seem to have a sense of loyalty.”

D. Taylor, Local 226’s secretary treasurer who was recently elected president of UNITE HERE, “will be remembered for a focus on the organizing,” said Getman. “A belief that the strength of the union is located in the membership, a commitment to liberal causes, and an honorable internal politics.”

The focus on organizing and commitment to other liberal causes are both emblematic of social unionism, the style of unionism which UNITE HERE espouses on an international level. For example, UNITE HERE organizers in Arizona spent much of 2012 organizing both its own workers and the state’s broader Latino community around issues related to immigrant justice.

In Nevada, the union’s emphasis on always organizing its workers—and on organizing them around concerns that go beyond just their own workplaces—seems to have paid dividends. When the union does go on strike, as they did in a famous 1991 battle against the Frontier hotel and casino, the unity of the rank and file goes a long way.

The Frontier strike lasted more than five years. But in that time, said Getman, “nobody crossed the picket line. There was tremendous solidarity, attributable to both the rank and file and the leadership, which included D. Taylor and several other people.”

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Life after 'right-to-work': How one union flourishes in right-to-work Nevada

Updated