Culinary Union Workers Entitled to Victory

COMMENTARY: Steve Miller
Las Vegas Tribune
May 15, 2002

At a time when MGM Mirage is lavishing minority owned businesses in Detroit with a gift of $50 million dollars to gain competitive-to-Las Vegas casino licenses, and Harrah's is building a $400 million dollar competitive-to-Las Vegas resort in California, the giants are standing on frail ground in their argument that revenues are down therefore they can't afford to continue to give local Culinary Union members free health insurance for themselves and their families.

In the past when our local standard of living was better, I didn't always support the plight of labor unions, but today in our selfish town; there's more reason than ever for the existence of organized labor. In other words, the largest employers in our state are asking average Nevada taxpayers to take over the casino's burden of paying for the health care of their employees while they invest out of state.

Mandalay's Mike Sloan said the union is asking for the largest hike ever in employer contributions to the health fund at a time when revenues are down. The state Gaming Control Board just reported that gaming revenues in the state declined 5.7 percent in March from the previous year. "How does (the Culinary Union) expect people to be paying more when they're earning less and the numbers are down?" Sloan asked.

The answer is clear. The casinos brought this upon themselves!

The casinos that complain the loudest about paying a living wage to their local employees are the same ones that are busy trying to sell their product out of state. They use our town as their showcase to convince out of state politicians to vote for competitive-to-Las Vegas gambling in their towns, then they complain about the competition!

Our casinos should pay heed to the hypocritical words of one of their own; former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones now a Harrah's executive who was quoted in the Los Angeles Times on February 23, 2000, boasting, "The company looks for strategic opportunities, and we think California is a great market. The risk to stockholders of gaming companies entering the California market is minimal compared with decisions to build $1-billion casinos in Las Vegas."

She makes it clear that Las Vegas is no longer a top priority.

If there was ever a time in local history when the union deserved the support of the community, that time is now. In past years, the debate was much more two-sided, but today, after hundreds of millions of Las Vegas-made-dollars have been exported to Detroit, Chicago, Atlantic City, Biloxi, and California, Mr. Sloan's disingenuous cry of poverty is an insult to our intelligence!

Downtown Las Vegas shows the effects of low wages paid to maids, porters, and other entry-level casino workers. Neighborhoods that once were well kept are now slums because earning a living wage is something out of the past. Illegals have found a Mecca in our town competing for the jobs once held by dues paying union members who were either laid off, or asked to perform the work of two persons for the price of one.

Now, some casinos want union employees and their families to co-pay for health services. They also want the taxpayers to pay when their workers have no other choice but to go to UMC for free health care. This is a good reason why we need to help the union this time around.

Harrah's loves to tout the high living standards of average Las Vegans when they send former Mayor Jones around the country to promote their product in competition to our city.

In March 1997, while she was still Mayor and a veiled stockholder in one of the casinos bidding for a Detroit license, Jones told the Detroit City Council, "You have all of the capacity to become a world class city…Foster an environment that gives casino operators the latitude they need to attract visitors from outside Detroit…I am not a supporter of stand-alone casinos. You need hotel rooms and an entertainment environment. Gaming is just a part of that...Disregard stereotypes associated with casinos, including ideas that it fosters prostitution, street crime and organized crime," stated the Mayor of Las Vegas.

They bought her pitch and more Nevada-made-dollars poured out of our state. Now the same casinos are crying poverty so they can take advantage of their workers!

Most casino barons, including Jones, no longer live here full time and couldn't care less about the town surrounding the Strip. Meanwhile, the politicians who don't help union members in their time of need do so realizing that the casino's will continue to pay to get them elected, and that's all they care about.

I just hope that a strike is averted because there are too many destitute people that will jump at the chance to replace striking union members for lower pay… or maybe that's the real reason behind some casino's reluctance to help existing employees improve their standard of living - they want to exchange them for the desperate who will work for less!

Good luck to the members of Culinary Local 226. Just keep it legal and peaceful so you maintain the community's support. If we all stick together and handle this intelligently, the Las Vegas expatriates in Laguna Niguel will have no choice but to respond.

By exposing the nation to just how heartless some of our local casinos are toward their employees, the Culinary Union may be able to help slow down the competitive-to-Las Vegas expansion of gambling, and that will be a blessing for all of us who call Las Vegas home.

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman and is the State Coordinator of the Nevada Coalition Against Gambling Expansion. Visit his website at: