Michael Wagner has worked as a bartender at the Green Valley Ranch Casino Resort in Henderson, Nevada since it first opened in December 2001. Wagner and other workers at the casino voted to form a union in November 2017, with 78% of the vote, after years of facing union busting, intimidation, and retaliation against those participating in union organizing.
It has been a long struggle. But it is still not over. The billionaire Trump allies who own the casino – and others like it – have embarked on a campaign of stalling recognition, delaying contract negotiations and intimidation and poor working conditions, casino workers say.
Since UNITE HERE Culinary Workers Union 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165 began union-organizing drives at Station Casinos in 2011, workers have successfully voted to form a union at six of the company’s properties in Nevada.
But, despite winning six union elections, the anti-union opposition from the third largest private employer in the Las Vegas area, Station Casinos, continues through legal appeals, none of which have been successful, and stalled contract negotiations.
Station Casinos executives and spokespersons have repeatedly affirmed they would respect union election results. In 2016, Station Casinos president Richard Haskins told the Las Vegas Review: “We have said all along that if a fair and lawful election is held we will abide by the results.”
According to the Culinary Union, Station Casinos is still appealing union elections at its Green Valley Ranch, Palms, and Sunset properties, while a union contract has yet to be negotiated at three other properties that have voted to unionize. The union represents nearly 4,000 workers at all six properties. Meanwhile, dozens of unfair labor practice charges filed by workers against Station Casinos remain under review by the National Labor Relations Board.
The company is owned by billionaires Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. The Fertittas have donated$2m to Trump’s America’s First Action PAC, over $1.5m to Trump’s Victory Fund, and more than $3m to the Republican National Committee and other Republican candidates since Trump’s election.
Several casino workers have alleged wrongful terminations for engaging in union activity at Station Casino properties, and current workers report that the company continues to fire workers without just cause as Nevada is an employment “at will” state, which grants employers the right to terminate employment at anytime for any reason.
“The management hasn’t recognized the union because they do whatever they want to workers and with the union, they won’t be able to do that anymore,” said Paola Felix, a guest room attendant at Green Valley Ranch Resort. “Without a union contract to protect you, you don’t get a chance to defend yourself, they just terminate you for no reason.”
When the first Station Casinos property voted to unionize in September 2016, company management sent out memos to all its employees that health benefits would be increased for all employees except those who had unionized. As part of an NLRB settlement in March 2017, Station Casinos agreed to recognize the union at Palace Station Casino and reimburse the workers at Boulder Station for lower healthcare premiums they were denied.
“They’ve filed legal challenge after legal challenge,” said Gunaydin Milli, a uniform room attendant at Palms Resort & Casino since 2008, where around 900 workers voted to unionize in April 2018. In May 2019, the NLRB ruled the resort was violating federal labor law by refusing to bargain with the union, but a union contract has still yet to be negotiated as Station Casinos is appealing the ruling in federal court.
“They’ve refused to negotiate with us and they’re breaking the law. The hard work we do everyday makes the company successful. We deserve to have something to show for it too,” said Milli.
The most recent union elections occurred at Station Casinos’ Sunset Hotel & Casino, with 83% voting in favor of the union, and Fiesta Rancho Hotel & Casino, with 85% voting for the union.
Casino workers have held numerous protests and rallies calling on Station Casinos to negotiate with the unions and to cease union busting at properties where union organizing drives are ongoing.
“The company has been fighting these workers for a long time,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226. “What the company has been doing is sending a message to workers they do not respect the democratic way these workers voted ‘yes’ to be represented by the Culinary Union.”
2020 Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro has recently called on Station Casinos to negotiate with the six unions. Senator Bernie Sanders has also publicly called on the Trump-supporting casino owners to negotiate.
The struggle is expected to gain more attention as Democratic presidential candidates compete for support from the Culinary Union ahead of the Nevada Democratic Caucuses in February 2020.
A spokesperson for Red Rock Resorts, the parent company of Station Casinos, Michael Britt told the Guardian in an email: “With respect to both Palms and Green Valley Ranch, although the union would clearly prefer that we not exercise our legal right to challenge the National Labor Review Board’s (NLRB) decisions regarding those properties in the United States federal courts – we have every right to do so and our challenges are both legal and appropriate.”
They declined to clarify the reasons behind those challenges.
In Red Rock Resort’s most recent annual report, the company claimed, “Union organization activities could disrupt our business by discouraging patrons from visiting our properties, causing labor disputes or work stoppages, and, if successful, could significantly increase our labor costs.”