With Election Day firmly one month in the rear-view mirror, Culinary Workers Union Local 226 has a lot of work left on its agenda. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the union assembled the largest political team in Nevada to “Take Back 2020” by defeating President Donald Trump, who “has been a daily threat to the livelihoods of workers and our families” according to Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the union.
Their most recent political endeavor — which included contactless door-to-door canvassing in support of Democratic candidates up and down the ballot — is considered the largest and most successful in the organization’s 85-year history, Argüello-Kline says.
More than 500 canvassers knocked on 500,000 doors starting August 1 and talked to more than 100,600 voters in multiple languages to encourage people to cast a ballot early and vote by mail. Canvassers spoke to more than 42,400 eligible voters who did not vote for 2016, and knocked on the doors of half of the Black and Latinx voters in Nevada, the culinary union says. The group, which represents 60,000 workers in Las Vegas and Reno, is also Nevada’s largest Black/AAPI/immigrant organization with members from 178 countries.
“I was encouraging voters to tell their friends and family, further than even Nevada, to make change,” says canvasser Annette Wright DeCampos, a garde manger who was laid off from the Golden Nugget. “We told people how we needed to move forward. We wouldn’t have been in this situation right now if we had good leadership.”
Seeing that people wanted to talk despite the coronavirus pandemic grew her confidence. “It made me want to reach more people,” DeCampos says, noting that canvassers wore masks and maintained six feet of social distancing while knocking on doors. “I saw that people wanted a candidate that won’t ridicule them. Our conversations helped make change.”
Fellow volunteer Yolanda Scott, a server at Treasure Island and culinary union member for 28 years, agrees. “I’ve done a lot of praying and shedding tears this year. Every time I turn on the news, somebody else is losing their job,” Scott says. “The work we did helped move us in the right direction.”
She felt the gravity of her efforts, and enthusiastically said she’d do it all again. “I made sure I washed my hands, wore my mask, followed social distancing, took my vitamins, and stayed safe,” Scott explains. “I’ve been a fighter all my life, and this was an important fight.” Under President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, she hopes to see people get their homes back.
Another canvasser, Juston Larsen, a barista at McCarran International Airport, wants to see health care improved. “That’s the very first thing my friends, family, and coworkers talked to me about when choosing a candidate,” he says.
He was surprised by the reaction he got when he knocked on doors. “We got a lot of appreciation on the doors, and it was honestly astonishing,” he continues. “People were so grateful, and I wasn’t expecting that.”
Larsen and his colleagues look to the future with shared optimism. “I think Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will bring us back to the things our ancestors fought for,” says the barista. “I’m excited to see what the next four years look like.”
The canvassing efforts by culinary union member outpaced the 2018 mid-term elections, when 350 hospitality worker canvassers knocked on 370,000 doors, and the 2016 presidential race, when 300 union members knocked on 350,000 doors.
Though the success of this historic effort is clear, the culinary union’s fight is not over. “Our next campaign is to win a Right to Return ordinance at the Clark County Commission to protect hundreds of thousands of workers who were laid off or furloughed due to COVID-19,” Argüello-Kline says.
A Right to Return ordinance would require employers to offer all workers — whether represented by a union or not — in Clark County the right to return to their jobs if the employee had been laid off or furloughed due to COVID-19 when the business reopens or resumes operations. And already the culinary union started to lay the groundwork for that effort when workers who were laid off or furloughed rallied outside of the Clark County Commission Building in early October.