Brown brings his union message to a union town

canary man
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown speaking to Culinary workers in Las Vegas Feb. 23. Photo: Jeniffer Solis

Sherrod Brown’s politics emphasize the Democratic Party’s long alliance with organized labor, and the Ohio senator is a consistent critic of policies that put “Wall Street over workers.”

But the workers in the room he spoke to as part of his “Dignity Of Work” tour in Las Vegas Saturday, rather than being the factory workers of the midwest, were cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks, bartenders, laundry and kitchen workers— women of color who were largely left out of the prosperity produced in 20th century factories, mills and mines that still come to mind for most Americans when they think of private sector union jobs.

Fifty-five percent of Culinary workers are women, and 54 percent are Latino.

On the wall inside the Culinary union’s headquarters is a sign that reads, “Culinary for the DREAM act.” Another large banner says, “No Ban. No Wall. No Raids,” And again in Spanish, “No Al Veto. No Al Muro. No A Las Redadas.”

While the 66-year-old has yet to decide whether to join the 2020 race, the Rust Belt senator said his goal is to spread his “dignity of work” message across the country, starting with crucial early presidential primary states.

None of the other early presidential caucus or primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina has as strong a union presence as Nevada, and no union in Nevada has as much political oomph as the Culinary.

Brown said he will decide whether to run or not next month.

Brown believes the pro-union message that has won him elections in Ohio will be vital in defeating President Donald Trump. And his midterm win in Ohio might support the argument. Not only did Brown do well in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, he won in many of the counties Trump won in 2016, some by as much as 11 points.

“I don’t want the 2020 election to be the Democrats winning the popular vote by 4 million votes this time and lose the presidency, because they can’t win my region.” Brown told the Washington Post.

Brown’s message, heavy in anecdotes and economic populism, emphasized the power of unions and labor rights to transform society. Throughout his stump speech Brown highlighted organized labor’s historic role in the creation of programs including the minimum wage, Social Security, and unemployment benefits.

“For a change, we will have government on the side of workers, not on the side of big corporations,” Brown said.

The first thing he’ll do as president is to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

One recent study estimates that only Mississippi has a higher concentration low-wage workers than Nevada and a $15 wage would benefit more than a half-million Nevada workers, primarily women of color.

At the Culinary Saturday, Brown outlined support for immigration, advocating for an immigration bill protecting DACA recipients and TPS holders with a pathway to citizenship.

“Probably the most immoral thing our government has done… is the separation of families at the border,” Brown said.

“Immigrants and the union movement are the strengths of this country. It’s why we’re a great country. It’s why people still have opportunity.”

While answering audience questions, Brown said he would fight to protect the Affordable Care Act and preexisting conditions and reiterated his support of social programs like Medicare. 

Rather than voice support for “Medicaid for All,” Brown said he would push for a public option for healthcare that would compete with private insurance. He also said as president he would open up the option of joining Medicaid at 50 years old. Brown said he wanted to allow Medicaid to negotiate drug prices and increase consumer protections. He spoke against “special interests that tell Mitch Mcconnell what to do” the Republican parties attempt to privatize everything from prisons to public education to Veterans Affairs.

“Get people to say no to privatization, make that a voting issue,” Brown said. If Trump and Republicans stay  power, “you’re going to get privatization because that’s their issue, and we have to stop it.”

Brown describes himself as a “labor Democrat,” and much of his pitch was delivered through a labor rights lens. For instance he didn’t mention climate change, but he did mention safe drinking water and clean air laws for laborers.

“If you love your country you fight for the people that work,” said Brown. “For me, the dignity of work is about wages, it’s about benefits, it’s about a safe workplace.”

On one lapel he wore a yellow Culinary button, a reflection of all the hospitality workers in the room wearing the same button. On the other side, he wore a canary pin, a symbol of the days when all that mine workers had to protect them from dangerous conditions in the shafts was a bird. 

“A worker didn’t have a union strong enough to protect him a 125 years ago and he didn’t have a government strong enough to protect him 125 years ago,” Brown said. “I will always be the canary. I will always fight for workers. I’ll always be on the side of the workers.”

“I think he sounds like he’s going to do exactly what he says he’s going to do,” said Culinary member Penny Harris, who appreciated his focus on labor rights. “He made everything that he had to say pretty much clear.”

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.

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