The Indypendent   ·   Link to Article

In Steven Greenhouse’s Latest, Workers are Down But Not Defeated

The most interesting parts of the book are those that lend support to this argument. Too few people are aware, for example, of the spectacular successes of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 of Las Vegas. “Its membership has more than tripled since the late 1980s,” Greenhouse writes, “soaring from eighteen thousand to sixty thousand today, making it one of the most powerful and fastest-growing union locals in the nation.” Dishwashers, waiters, and hotel housekeepers — immigrants, blacks, refugees — have been raised to the middle class.

The trick, beginning in the 1980s, was to reject the union’s old “business unionism” model and make it a rank-and-file union. With the help of large and long-lasting strikes at casino-hotels — one spanned over six years — the Culinary Workers forced one hotel after another to accept “card check” neutrality, meaning they would recognize the union after a majority of workers signed cards supporting it. Even the very anti-union MGM finally changed its tune — after public demonstrations were held and the union distributed reports to MGM’s investors warning them that a Culinary Workers strike could damage the company’s precarious finances.

Other unions could also learn from the Culinary Workers’ dedication to politically mobilizing its members. In 2016, it was decisive in switching Nevada from red to blue. Its members knocked on 350,000 doors, got thousands of people to register to vote and brought tens of thousands of early voters to the polls. In 2018, similarly, the union was instrumental in flipping a U.S. Senate seat, along with the governor’s mansion and two House seats.

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