November 08, 2006

Viva, Las Vegas

Lately, I've been looking for signs of organized labor trying to increase its influence within the Democratic Party. The Los Angeles Times has noticed another. Now that Nevada has become an early state in the revamped presidential primary schedule, the hotel and service unions in Las Vegas will almost certainly play an outsized role in the 2008 Democratic primaries. I imagine this bodes well for labor-friendly candidates such as John Edwards and Tom Vilsack, but it certainly means that union issues will get as much attention as ethanol subsidies traditionally do.

Nevada, interestingly enough, has a fairly high union density—15.1 percent, higher than the national average of 12.5 percent—despite having "right-to-work" laws on the books, which allow an employee to quit the union at her workplaces or refuse to pay dues without losing her job. Businesses love these laws; unions rightly claim that they weaken collective bargaining. All of the other 21 right-to-work states have low union densities, and many of them are in the Deep South, where organized labor is practically non-existent. Strangely enough, Nevada—and only Nevada—has bucked this trend, and it's still adding members at a healthy clip.

I've always supposed that this is because service industries are expanding rapidly in Las Vegas and Reno, and most of the incoming hotels and casinos are companies that had already been unionized elsewhere. But Harold Meyerson reports that unions such as HERE were especially innovative about pressuring hotels to agree to "card check" elections during the 1980s and 90s. I imagine, too, that Nevada's union density would be much, much greater in the absence of right-to-work laws—according to the BLS, fifteen states still have higher densities than Nevada, although on first glance many of them seem to be places where public-sector unions are relatively powerful.
-- Brad Plumer 10:08 PM || ||