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Culinary Workers Union Supports Casino Worker Issues in Nevada

Published on October 25, 2014, 4:32 pm

by Jeff Grant Twitter account Jeff Grant LinkedIn account

When gamblers visit Las Vegas and spend money in the casinos and hotels there, they want their stay to be a pleasant one. The quality of a customer's experience is due, at least in part, to the happiness and well-being of the many casino workers they encounter during their stay.

The Culinary Workers Union is a Nevada-based labor union that represents a large portion of strip casino workers in Las Vegas. Approximately 160,000 union members look to the Culinary Workers Union to protect their wages and the quality of their working conditions.

Gaming is Nevada's top industry and contributes significantly to the state's economy. Every year, disputes surrounding Las Vegas casinos and their workers arise which must be dealt with by Nevada state government and the Culinary Workers Union.

The goal is always to resolve these conflict peacefully and quickly so that the state's most precious financial resource, its casinos, continue to run smoothly and bring in revenue. In the past twelve months alone, numerous political issues have arisen which have been addressed by the Culinary Workers Union.

Culinary workers union (Las Vegas workers protests)
Culinary workers union (Las Vegas workers protests)

Steve Wynn's Controversial Decision to Force Dealer Tip Sharing

In 2006, Steve Wynn, owner of Wynn Las Vegas, imposed a new regulation on his dealers which caused quite an upset. Dealers were suddenly forced to split tips not only amongst themselves, but amongst their managers as well. Wynn made this decision with the goal of boosting manager morale, which would then theoretically trickle down and improve the quality of his customers' experiences. Wynn's controversial move marked the first time a tip-sharing regulation involving managers was mandated in the gambling industry.

Not surprisingly, Wynn's dealers reacted harshly to this sudden loss of control over a significant portion of their wages. Joining forces with the Transport Workers Union (TWU), the dealers filed a complaint against Wynn with the labor commissioner's office of Nevada. The labor commissioner's office denied the complaint's validity, declaring that Wynn's tip-sharing mandate is within his right as an employer.

This decision was subsequently challenged by Clark County District Court Judge Kenneth Cory. Cory countered the labor commissioner's argument by citing an already-existing Nevada law which prohibits forced tip sharing between employees and their managers.

Contrary to the stance of the TWU, the Culinary Workers Union supports Wynn's right to impose a tip sharing requirement on his dealers. The debate has not yet been settled, but it has raised an interesting ethical question as to whether courts should have the power to control administrative actions which ultimately affect the quality of customer service. Wynn dealers continue to await a final decision regarding the issue.

Station Casinos Harass Union-Supporting Workers; Culinary Workers Union Intervenes

On October 2, 2012, the National Labor Relations Board responded to 82 charges filed by the Culinary Workers Union against Station Casinos, the largest casino operator in Las Vegas. The charges centered around complaints of employee harassment and intimidation based on the employees' support of unionized labor.

For example, workers at Red Rock Resort were forbidden by management to wear buttons reflecting their support of unions. Two Station employees were reportedly terminated because of their participation in pro-union activities, while a third employee lost hours for the same reason.

Station Casinos were commanded by the NLRB to post written notices throughout their facilities stating that their employees are permitted to unionize if they so choose, and that the company will not discriminate against employees who support unionization. Although Station Casino employees are not currently members of the Culinary Workers Union, the union took this opportunity to advocate for workers' rights to unionize. Nevada is a Right to Work state.

Protest posters against Station Casinos
Protest posters against Station Casinos

The Question of Whether Casino Comp Meals Should Be Taxed

Casinos frequently offer complimentary food, otherwise known as "comp meals," to gamblers in order to draw business. In spite of the fact that no money is exchanged for comp meals, past practice has required casinos to pay tax on these meals to the state of Nevada. Although casinos are not currently paying tax on these meals due to a temporary legal arrangement, Governor Brian Sandoval would like to see casinos resume the practice of paying tax on their comp meals.

Boyd Gaming Corp. v. The State of Nevada is a pending lawsuit in the Nevada Supreme Court regarding this issue. If the Supreme Court rules that casinos may continue to avoid the tax, some people fear that Nevada's public education fund will suffer the consequences in terms of lost revenue.

If the Supreme Court rules that casinos must resume paying the tax, Nevada will avoid paying a $350 million rebate to casinos and reap a significant revenue reward in future years. Governor Sandoval has made it clear that he supports resumed taxation, but he is not the person to decide the matter; Nevada's Supreme Court will make that decision.

The Culinary Workers Union is opposed to taxation on comp meals, largely because comp meals include free meals provided by casinos to employees. If free employee meals become a taxable expense, this employee benefit may come to an end.

The Culinary Workers Union is a fast-growing Nevada union that services numerous casino workers on the Las Vegas Strip, in downtown Las Vegas, and beyond. The union represents bar tenders, kitchen workers, housekeepers, and other casino professionals. According to the union's website, their goal is to fight for "free health care, a secure retirement, owning a home and sending kids to college".

When legal and ethical issues arise that threaten the well-being of Las Vegas casino workers, the Culinary Workers Union takes a stand and defends it. Gamblers who have enjoyable experiences in Las Vegas indirectly benefit from the success of this worker-focused union.


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