If Culinary Workers Union Local 226 members have to hit the pavement in order to win a fair contract settlement with Las Vegas hotels and casinos, they won't walk alone.
It's not just that this union local, with more than 60,000 members, is one of the fastest-growing and most powerful labor organizations in the country. It also has something to do with the fact that Nevada will hold caucuses to select delegates to the 2008 Democratic National Convention next January, just after the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses and just before the New Hampshire primary.
That makes the state a prime hunting ground for Democratic presidential contenders. And they all want to be on the right side of a union that is expected to play a critical role in the caucuses – and perhaps in defining the course of the presidential race.
Just how much do the candidates want to impress this particular union local and its members? In appearances before union members, the contenders have pretty much broken into a chorus of "Solidarity Forever."
New York Senator Hillary Clinton ☼ and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards both received standing ovations when they flew in this week to promise to stand with the workers, whose contracts have just expired, if they are forced to strike.
But Illinois Senator Barack Obama ☼ went them one better. He won't be standing with the workers, he said. He'll be marching.
Appearing at a rally on Friday, the day after the contracts expired, Obama told a crowd of union activists, "I have already bought my suntan lotion. I'm prepared. I'm equipped. I'm ready to walk, I'm ready to walk. I'm ready."
The crowd roared its approval. The new standard has been set.
It's not enough to "stand" with the union. The candidates who want to connect will need to walk the line. And it that's as it should be. For too long, Democratic contenders have accepted union money and campaign support and then responded with NAFTA and the Clinton-Gore plan to downsize the federal government with job cuts and privatization schemes. It's about time Democrats gave something back. Why not start with some shoe leather in Las Vegas? Then, who knows, maybe some labor law reform and trade policies that favor workers rather than Wall Street?