How the Mighty Culinary Union Survived the Apocalypse

In These Times   ·   Link to Article

The Culinary Union itself could not afford to wallow in disbelief. The pandemic shutdowns were an existential crisis. Virtually overnight, 98% of its members became unemployed.

That was a very difficult time,” says Geoconda Argüello-Kline, with characteristic understatement. A native of Nicaragua who moved to Las Vegas for work in the early 1980s, Argüello-Kline has been a top officer of the Culinary Union for nearly a decade. She began as a member, then became an activist, and then became an organizer, and has spent countless months leading difficult strikes against intransigent casino companies. A photo of her marching with Cesar Chavez on a Vegas picket line now hangs on the wall of the union’s maze-like office. But nothing she had experienced rivaled the sheer scope of what the union’s members faced in 2020: total unemployment, a public health crisis and paralyzing uncertainty about how everyone was supposed to keep their homes and their healthcare and continue to feed their families while the jobs in the city ground to a halt. 

In the face of all that (and with its own offices shut down, its finances in peril) the union got to work. It launched a free food distribution program that has, to date, given out more than 475,000 baskets of food to members: beans, rice, chicken, fruit. At the program’s peak, 1,800 people were coming to pick up food each day. The union also began a massive assistance campaign to help members file for unemployment benefits, and developed its own online tools to better navigate the creaky state website.

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