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A man and a woman wearing masks leave a house
Culinary union members Gerry Rojas, left, and Aretha Wilder canvass the streets of North Las Vegas to encourage people to vote
Nelson Lucero

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Culinary Union Members Canvass the Streets of Las Vegas, Hoping to Deliver a Nevada Win for Biden

More than 400 culinary union members have canvassed daily since August 1

It’s 1 p.m. when Gerry Rojas, a porter at McCarran International Airport, and Aretha Wilder, a cocktail server at the Flamingo, start walking door to door in a quiet neighborhood in North Las Vegas, far from the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip. A woman shovels gravel onto her lawn while her mother watches in a chair. Cars dot the street, some in driveways, while some houses with tile roofs sport Halloween decorations and carved pumpkins in anticipation of the holiday.

Rojas walks up to the door to knock, then ring, stepping back while he awaits an answer. Wilder stands behind. Both wear masks and carry their phones directing them to the next stop, along with door hangs in Spanish and English encouraging voters to elect Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for president and vice president, and Democrat incumbent Steven Horsford as U.S. representative for Nevada’s 4th congressional district. Each carries a guide to early voting locations and additional masks in case the person answering the door needs one.

“Maybe someone will be home here,” Wilder says since a car sits in the driveway. Few people answer their doors. Some say they’ve already voted early, while a man at one house notes that the person they ask for moved away five years ago as two children play in the driveway.

The duo, who have canvassed together previously, continues on. It’s six days before the election and members of Culinary Workers Union 226 and Bartenders Union 165 continue to walk through Las Vegas neighborhoods, knocking on doors to get out the vote. Since August, around 400 culinary union members have knocked on doors across Clark County daily to rally voters to cast a ballot in the 2020 election.

“This is totally different than any other election,” says Rojas, who originally hails from Puerto Rico. He says that he’s canvassing for his young daughter, and that he doesn’t like the way President Donald Trump handled the devastation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017.

“Compared with the last elections, people were really negative toward everybody. They don’t even want to vote. Now people say, ‘Oh, this is a mistake. I want to fix my mistake [by voting],’” he says.

The culinary union calls this the “largest political program in Nevada,” with members canvassing the streets daily to knock on — so far — 382,350 doors. Those political efforts started August 1, when the temperature still hovered above 110 degrees, much earlier than the 2016 presidential and 2018 midterm campaign efforts.

Two people wait outside a door
Culinary union members Aretha Wilder and Gerry Rojas canvass in a North Las Vegas neighborhood.
Nelson Lucero

As Rojas and Wilder continue their route, another person tells them she’s already voted, but won’t say how she cast her ballot. In 2016, 770,000 of the state’s 1.1 million votes were cast before Election Day. Democrats still have a lead over Republicans in early voting by about 45,000 voters, and as of October 29, 956,000 people voted early, according to the Nevada Independent.

Walk, knock, repeat. Walk, knock, repeat. As they finish one two-block section, they head to the next to continue canvassing until 7 in the evening.

A group of people sit in socially distanced chairs
Culinary union members participated in a rally at the union’s headquarters on October 28.
Culinary Workers Union Local 226/Facebook

Earlier in the day, the culinary union held a rally at its headquarters in the shadow of the Strat in Downtown Las Vegas. About 250 people sat in socially distanced chairs in the parking lot of the union headquarters.

Nearly all wear the distinctive red or white T-shirts of the culinary union, touting the Unite Here rallying cry. Everyone has their temperature taken before they enter, and no one has to be asked to wear a mask. These union members already work on the front lines as bartenders, servers, cooks, or housekeepers, 300,000 strong in Nevada. They work at the big casinos on the Strip, in Downtown Las Vegas, and fought to have their rights recognized when they had to return to work on June 4, the day the state permitted casinos to reopen at 50 percent capacity. At the time, the state did not mandate masks, and workers had few protections as they came in direct contact with co-workers and tourists, all of whom could potentially infect others with COVID-19.

“When we first opened up, we had no mask mandate. We had nothing,” says Wilder, who has worked at the Flamingo for 28 years. “I’m watching my coworkers, every other week, people I know, have been driven to the hospital.”

Wilder’s eyes tear up behind her sunglasses as she talks about her aunt, who worked at the Westgate and contracted COVID-19. “She was on a ventilator for three weeks. She’s paralyzed on her left side, so it’s personal to me. This election is personal to me.”

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Eater Vegas is part of Vox Media. Find more coverage of the 2020 election across its other 13 networks: how to vote, in-depth analysis, and how policies will affect you, your state and the country over the next four years and beyond.

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