Culinary workers build 'wall' of taco trucks outside Trump hotel in Las Vegas

A union of culinary workers at Donald Trump's Las Vegas hotel is one of a wave of groups seeking to broaden Latinos' political power.

Jim Urquhart/Reuters
A protestor holds signs at the Wall of Tacos demonstration in front of the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas before the last 2016 U.S. presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016.

A fleet of taco trucks made a “wall” in front of the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas on Wednesday, in a celebration of immigrant labor that twinned one protest against Donald Trump’s candidacy with another against the hotel’s refusal to enter into negotiations with newly unionized culinary workers.

Held just a few miles from the site of Wednesday night’s debate, the rally made light of Mr. Trump’s promise to build a wall spanning the length of the southern border, as well Trump supporter Marco Gutierrez's remark that if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency there will be “taco trucks on every corner.” On hand were Reverend Jesse Jackson and several dozen activists and organizers with union, immigrant advocacy and Latino voter registration groups from across the region, according to Buzzfeed.

The event also highlighted an ongoing battle between the hotel’s management and the Culinary Workers Union, which represents the roughly 500 housekeeping and culinary employees who were granted union status by the National Labor Relations Board in March. Management is appealing the ruling.

"The reason we are out there is, for the last year now Trump has illegally refused to bargain with workers who won a union election at his hotel," Yvanna Cancela, political director of Culinary Workers Union 226, told NBC. "The biggest message we have sent to him is he needs to come to the negotiation table."

The union’s dispute may be local in scope, but its implications are national: The union is Nevada’s largest, and it yields formidable clout in turning out the Latino vote, in a year when Latino political power is coming under the lens.

“The culinary union is the most potent grass-roots organization in this state,” Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston told The New York Times in July. “It is the Hispanic turnout organization. The fact that they can use Trump both as a business and a political organizing tool is going to help them in both arenas.”

Nevada is one of several states in which Latino candidates are seeking to mark firsts for Hispanic representation in Congress. Former state attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto is at a virtual tie in the race for an open Senate seat; if she prevails, she would become the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the chamber.

It’s unclear what kind of political force can be summoned among Latino voters, whose turnout has for years lagged those of other ethnic groups. Even this year, as reactionary sentiment to Hispanics’ growth as a demographic has flourished, Hispanic voters have been less engaged in the election than other groups, with smaller percentages saying that they follow news about it closely or give it a lot of thought. And polls reach mixed conclusions when it comes to voter turnout on Nov. 8.

What’s certain is that voter-registration groups are getting plenty of mileage out of the “taco truck” comments by Mr. Gutierrez, who is the founder of Latinos for Trump. Groups around the country are using taco trucks to lure potential voters who haven’t registered yet.

In Houston, for example, Mi Familia Vota has partnered with designer Thomas Hull for a food truck voter drive, with eight trucks plying the streets.

“It was offensive to some,” Mr. Hull told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in reference to Gutierrez’s comments. “At the same time, those of us who live here in Texas find it humorous because there are taco trucks on every corner and we love them.”

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