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Democrats To Appeal To Union Voters At Presidential Forum


The primary season is in full swing. And with the Nevada caucus less than eight months away, the 24 Democrats looking to replace President Donald Trump have been steadily trickling into the state for stump appearances. 

On August 3, 19 of them will pour into Las Vegas to participate in a forum on labor and public service at UNLV.

The event is being produced by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, one of the largest labor unions in the U.S.

The timing couldn’t be better. In June, legislation allowing state workers to join unions became law in Nevada. 

Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME, told KNPR's State of Nevada that the union picked Nevada as a site for the forum because it believes the state is working towards being more pro-labor.

"Nevada, we believe, is moving forward as far as supporting workers in this state," he said.

He pointed to the new collective bargaining legislation has a sign of the state's commitment to unions. Saunders said his union is already working to organize Nevada state employees. 

Saunders also said that public employees have taken a hit over the last few years as more private companies have pushed to provide public services, and after  the Supreme Court decision on union fees last year.

This forum will give presidential candidates a chance to explain their vision for the future of the country and organized labor, he said.

"We believe that the folks coming into town, the presidential candidates, are talking about the things that workers want to hear, and they've got to talk more about it," he said, "They've got to talk more about their plans on health care. They've got to talk about more about infrastructure, about the importance of public service."

Saunders said the forum is a huge opportunity for the candidates to lay out their vision for the future. 

But they won't just be talking, the candidates will be taking questions from AFSCME members. 

Longtime Nevada journalist Jon Ralston and HuffPost Washington Bureau Cheif Amanda Terkel will be moderating the forum.

Ralston said he wants to follow up with candidates and pin them down on details for some of their proposals.

"It does [AFSCME] members no good, it does anybody else no good watching to just hear the candidates essentially read from their memorized talking points and the stuff you can find on their website," he said.

Ralston gave the example of proposed Medicare-for-all, for which some of the more progressive candidates have advocated. 

"If you are for Medicare-for-all, there are questions that need to be asked in terms of how you're going to pay for it, what's going to happen to people who like their employer-based insurance now," he said.

Ralston said he and Terkel will not put up with the candidates responding like they did in the recent debates with what he termed as a "Republican talking point."

"Frankly, my goal... we want to make news tomorrow," he said, "We want these candidates to say something they haven't said before to try to pin them down."

Ralston called the forum a "suck-up parade" for candidates looking for an endorsement from this large and influential union.

However, Saunders said an endorsement doesn't come from union leadership. Instead, he explained, it is a process involving union members from across the country. 

"We want to go through the process where the candidates are given an opportunity and our members are given the opportunity to really listen to what they are saying and to be involved in the process," he said.

Lee Saunders, president, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Jon Ralston, editor, The Nevada Independent


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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.