Culinary Workers Union Behind Sin City Setback

As of July 2012, the unemployment rate of greater Clark County, Nevada, which includes the desert oasis of Las Vegas, is at 12.9 percent, compared to the national rate at 7.8 percent. The state of Nevada as a whole suffers from the highest state unemployment rate in the country at 12.1 percent. Vegas was also hit hard when the housing bubble burst, with many homes lost between 60 to 65 percent of their value since 2007. Currently, Nevada ranks sixth in the nation for highest housing foreclosure rates in the nation.

The people of Las Vegas are struggling to turn their town and their fortunes around. Unfortunately, local unions are standing in their way.

On October 13, 2012, a coalition of local downtown Las Vegas business owners called the “Downtown Las Vegas Alliance,” sponsored an event called “Rediscover Downtown,” which was meant to draw attention to businesses in the downtown area north of the famous Las Vegas Strip. Sadly, the local Culinary Workers Union decided to disrupt the event at several locations.

The purpose of the protest was to bring attention to the union’s health and retirement benefits, which the union is trying to retain after their recent contract expired in June at many downtown Las Vegas locations, including the Golden Nugget and Main Street Station. Negotiations for new contracts between casino management and union reps have been contentious: casinos are demanding concessions from unions due to flat or declining gaming revenue.

Unions aren’t having any of it, and have decided instead to throw their very public temper tantrum. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal lamented: “It’s one thing to rain on someone’s parade. It’s entirely another to spray down a celebration with fire hoses — and then expect to be rewarded.”

The Downtown Las Vegas Alliance was not too pleased with the situation. Chairman Rich Worthington warned before the event that the protest would create a “perception of conflict” that could hinder much needed business investment and tourism in the downtown area. He was right.

The Culinary Workers Union has also been making headlines due to its battle with the Station Casinos chain, which owns and operates 17 properties in Southern Nevada. The Nation Labor Relations Board upheld a ruling against Station Casinos on October 2, 2012, saying that the chain had violated federal labor laws for their response to the Culinary Workers Union’s efforts to organize the casino’s workers.

Station Casinos has said that if the Culinary Workers Union wants to represent its employees, then the union needs to do so through an election process. The union, however, is proposing a neutrality agreement and card check procedure.

A card check procedure compared to a private ballot election is that the union, and in some cases the company, knows how the employee voted and opens up the risk of intimidation on the employee by the union. In 2002, the Culinary Workers Union used the card check procedure to threaten employees of the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino that they would lose their pension and health care benefits, or even lose their jobs, once the union was officially recognized.

While Las Vegas continues to struggle in this tough economy, the Culinary Workers Union is demonstrating that they care more about their benefits and dues, rather than the health of their city’s economy.

Even in a town known for its greed, that is pretty harsh.