Can’t seem to shut them down, despite best efforts:
On the same day that thousands protested the end of labor as we know it in Michigan, the largest, thriving union in a right-to-work state celebrated the ascendancy of its first female and Hispanic leader.
As Michigan is poised to become the country’s 24th right-to-work state (unions can’t force new employees to pay dues), it’s worth remembering just how potent labor is here in Nevada, despite the 60-year-old law on the books here. With an invaluable assist from ex-state Archivist Guy Rocha, I wondered just how a state that became right to work by a narrow margin in 1952 could be the same one where labor is celebrating unprecedented political influence in 2012 and its largest member today announced the election of Nicaraguan refugee and former housekeeper Geoconda Arguello-Kline as its new leader.
Ultimately, SB79 was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Charlie Russell on March 14, 1951. It had to be ratified by the voters and was, barely, the following year, 38,823-37,789 (50.6 percent to 49.4 percent).
Labor tried to get the law repealed twice at the ballot –- 1954 and 1956 -– failing both times. And then in 1958 – see if this doesn’t sound familiar – an initiative petition to repeal the right-to-work law was ordered off the ballot for insufficient signatures.
And yet, the 1952 law has not destroyed labor in Nevada – far from it. Indeed, although membership is not overwhelming, just as it isn’t anywhere, labor’s political might may have reached its apex in 2012.
But unlike in Michigan, where labor may be going in reverse, the Culinary, through Arguello-Kline’s elevation, is moving forward. She is the first Latina ever to lead the union, which only cemented its political power by helping Harry Reid in 2010 and President Obama and down-ballot folks, too, this year. That Hispanic might here, which is key to politics in Nevada: A lot of those Latinos are Culinary members, and now one is the leader.
Right-to-work is all the rage across the Midwest. But here in a state marking its 60th anniversary of being a right-to-work state with the election of an unprecedented leader of a populous union, you almost never hear the phrase.
Culinary Workers Local 226 promoted Geoconda Arguello-Kline, a former housekeeper and Nicaraguan refugee, to become the organization’s secretary-treasurer.
Arguello-Kline becomes the first female and first Hispanic to lead the 60,000-member union that represents hotel and restaurant workers in Las Vegas.
Born in Managua, Nicaragua, Arguello-Kline fled the country as a political refugee in 1979. She arrived in Miami with her two children and worked a series of service jobs including housekeeping and truck driving.
She moved to Las Vegas in 1983 and worked at Fitzgeralds as a guest room attendant.
She became part of the Culinary staff in 1990 as union organizer. She worked the picket line of the more than six-year-long strike against the Frontier, which in ended in 1998.
“I’m tremendously honored to take on this position,” Arguello-Kline said in a statement. “It is a testament to our diverse and incredible members that has put me here. It is an honor to represent our members every day. We undoubtedly have challenges ahead, but I’m confident that we will overcome them by working as a union.”
I don’t know what this means nationally, maybe nothing, maybe it doesn’t apply outside Nevada, but it’s really heartening to see how resilient and enduring both labor unions and the ideas behind labor unions can be.