LAS VEGAS (CN) – A chant of “Union health care! Union Health Care!” briefly drowned out U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Tuesday after the presidential candidate pitched his “Medicare for all” plan at a town hall in Las Vegas hosted by the Culinary Workers Union Local 226.
Elodia Munoz, a Horseshoe Casino employee who spent nine months on strike with 450 other workers largely to preserve her health care, elicited the chant when she rose to ask Sanders a question but instead issued a stern challenge.
“We went on strike to protect our health care, health care I need for my family,” Munoz said. “We love our culinary health care. We want to keep it. We don’t want to change it. Why would you change it?”
Sanders, in Las Vegas to speak at one of three town hall meetings hosted by the union, answered that changing Munoz’s health care is best because Medicare for all would be cheaper for everyone and ultimately put money in her pocket.
“We have in this country, a broken, dysfunctional and cruel health care system,” the Vermont senator told the crowd of about 350 in the union hall a few blocks off the Strip. “We’re spending $11,000 for every man, woman and child in this country on health care, and yet after we spend all of that money, 87 million people are uninsured or underinsured.”
Sanders told Munoz he would expand Medicare to include dental and vision care and home care, so elderly Americans would not be forced into care facilities against their will.
“How do we pay for that?” someone yelled from the audience.
Ending the bureaucracy of multiple health care programs and “profiteering” of insurance and health care companies would lower the cost, Sanders said.
“And that means that your employer won’t have to pay $15,000 for your health care,” Sanders said. “Your employer will have to pay $3,000. That’s a $12,000 differential. You know who gets that $12,000? You get that $12,000.”
After the crowd interrupted Sanders, D. Taylor, president of the culinary union Unite Here in the United States and Canada, called them to task.
“I believe in town hall meetings, but we’re going to let candidates speak without any sort of heckling,” Taylor said in a friendly tone. “If you want to heckle, go outside and heckle.”
Though the event was in Las Vegas, Taylor reminded the crowd that the issues at stake affect union members across the nation. Nina Winston, president of the Unite Here Local 34 in Detroit, asked how Sanders would re-energize voters in her city and state and other places devastated by manufacturing job losses for decades.
The key is to focus on the little guy, Sanders said.
“The way you build voter turnout, is to deal with the issues that working-class people are dealing with. You don’t have to worry about tax breaks fort billionaires. They’re doing just fine. Let’s focus on the needs of the working class in this country,” Sanders said.
That includes raising the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour, equal pay for women, and making community college free.
Culinary Workers Local 226 is hosting a trio of town hall meetings this week – one Monday with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Sanders on Tuesday, and former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
Sanders trailed Biden and Warren among likely Nevada voters in an Emerson Polling survey taken Oct. 31-Nov. 2, drawing 19% support while 30% sided with Biden and 22% favored Warren. In head-to-head matchups, however, Sanders and President Donald Trump tied while Biden and Warren both lost to Trump 49% to 51%.
Nevada voters were split fairly evenly on health care in the Emerson poll.
Thirty-eight percent favor some form of Medicare for all, while 23% each favor keeping things the way they are or having a public option. Among Democrats, Medicare for all was the top health care choice at 44%, while 34% of Republicans’ top choice was keeping the system we have. Twenty-seven percent of independent Nevada voters want Medicare for all.