"The union has filed a petition with sufficient support for us to proceed," Steve Wamser, the NLRB's deputy regional attorney for Las Vegas, said earlier this month. "We've scheduled a hearing, but we're not sure if there are any issues that would require a hearing. We plan on talking with both parties to work out an election agreement."
The Transport Workers, a New York-based union that is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, represents 130,000 workers across the country in mass transportation, airlines, railroads, utilities, higher education and municipalities.
This is, if not a direct response, then a certain outgrowth of a new Wynn policy that went into effect last fall requiring casino dealers to share tips with floor supervisors, a one-of-a-kind policy in Las Vegas intended to correct a wage disparity that had floor supervisors earning less take-home pay than the dealers they supervised. This reduction in tips has created a 15-20% drop in pay for some dealers. Andrew Pascal, President of Wynn Las Vegas, said dealers were upset because of the decrease in their pay. However, he added, dealers at Wynn are paid more than at any other resort in Las Vegas.
"The underlying reason for instituting this change seems to have been validated," Pascal said. "We have an improved level of service, we're getting great candidates for open positions and people are still very well compensated for the job they do."
Pascal said the dealers still angry about the program "believe the only way they can overcome making less money is by organizing." A recent bill before the Nevada Assembly that would have made the tip-sharing program illegal died in committee before it reached a general vote, giving dealers more apparent incentive to unionize.
Dealers at the Wynn are the most recent casino workers in Las Vegas to bring a union vote, but the union movement in casinos is picking up steam nationwide, with four Atlantic City casinos' employees recently taking steps to seek representation with UAW, the United Auto Workers' Union. Dealers at Trump Marina and Caesar's Atlantic City have voted in favor of organization, with Trump Plaza and Bally's voting to approve elections.
"All across Atlantic City, dealers are coming together, united by the common desire to have a real say in securing better pay and benefits and job security," said Joe Ashton, director of UAW Region 9, which includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania and upstate New York. "They're standing up for basic fairness, and the UAW is proud to stand with them." The UAW has over 600,000 members in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico in over 800 chapters. The UAW has over 3,000 contracts with over 2,000 employers, making it a serious player in the labor relations business.
Wynn dealers may have a rough time of it, as union movements in Las Vegas have historically not been as successful as in more heavily pro-union parts of the US, like New Jersey. The TWU has a history of only moderately successful union negotiations in Las Vegas, losing 10 of 13 union elections among dealers at Las Vegas casinos in 2001. The TWU won elections at the New Frontier, Stratosphere and Tropicana, but was defeated at Treasure Island, Excalibur, Monte Carlo, MGM Grand, Riviera, Bally's, New York-New York and the Las Vegas Hilton.
In these earlier union votes, the TWU was opposed by Mark Garrity, an anti
union campaigner retained by Wynn, Boyd Gaming, Harrah's Entertainment and MGM Mirage.
Garrity represented The Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, The Mirage, Bellagio, MGM Grand Casino Hotel, New York-New York Hotel & Casino, Stardust Resort & Casino to "do everything lawful to avoid contamination by TWU intervention." In all instances, Garrity prevailed over the TWU.
Wynn dealer Jesse Guest minimized the impact Garrity could have on the upcoming votes, saying that nothing would change the dealers' resolve. "I know that he's a professional and that (Garrity) leads a strong campaign, but the fact remains that Steve Wynn took 20 percent (of tip income) and there's nothing Mark Garrity can do to change that. Mark Garrity is just wasting his money."
As casinos become bigger and bigger business and smaller groups get bought out by larger and larger corporations, the role of unions in protecting the interests of the workers becomes more apparent. When an employer like Steve Wynn goes against the tipping policies that thousands of dealers are hired under to arbitrarily inflate the wage of managers, it becomes important that someone is looking out for the front line employees. As goes the Wynn, so will likely go the rest of the Vegas strip, and if the other strip casinos haven't started the process of tipping out floor supervisors like they were minimum-wage earning busboys in restaurants instead of trained and professional managers, they likely soon will. It will be very interesting to see the outcome of the Wynn Union vote.