Wynn dealers gird themselves for union vote

Las Vegas‘ most heated grudge match, Wynn Las Vegas‘ casinos dealers vs. Steve Wynn, is going to a third round. So far in the battle over Wynn’s controversial tip-reallocation policy, the casino magnate leads 2-0, having won bouts in both Clark County District Court and the Nevada Legislature.

Now the dealers have some additional muscle in their corner, having enlisted an AFL-CIO affiliate to organize their 680-person workforce into a union, following rebuffs from the Teamsters Union and the UAW.

A petition filed April 9 declares that the Transport Workers Union has the support of 30 percent or more of the dealer workforce. An employee representative, however, put the number of supporters at 60 percent-plus of Wynn dealers.

Wynn’s Policy catching on?

Friday, April 13, the day the TWU went public with its petition, saw dealers dealt a major setback. AB 357, which would have put an end to the tip policy currently in effect at Wynn Las Vegas (wherein all tips are collected by management and reallocated at its discretion), died in the Nevada Assembly’s Judiciary Committee.

The now-defunct bill had been authored by freshman Assemblyman Bob L. Beers, R-Henderson, who says he’s hearing that other business owners are following Wynn’s lead now. „As far as I know, some of them are (properties represented by the) Culinary Union, some of them are restaurants,“ he said. Culinary spokesman D. Taylor did not return a call from the Business Press.

During testimony before the Assembly Judiciary Committee, dealers were forbidden to utter the word ‚Wynn.‘ One says that, after calling a recess, Chairman Bernie Anderson, D-Washoe County, stormed over to her group and angrily denounced their testimony with a barnyard expletive.

Although Anderson eventually brought the bill up on April 13, the last possible day for consideration („Apparently some of the phone calls and e-mails had an effect,“ Beers mused), it expired without a whimper of protest from committee members.

The assemblyman blames AB 357’s demise on the substitution of a „conceptual amendment“ by Anderson which reinstated problematic clauses Beers had already taken out in consultation, he says, with the Nevada Resort Association and the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. This more-stringent version of Beers‘ bill, he said, would have been „causing problems for small businesses. It actually could have closed down small restaurants.

„This was an act, played out in four parts for the benefit of those who were in opposition,“ Beers fumed. „Mr. Anderson did his job as he was commanded to do.“ Commanded by whom? „That’s a good question,“ said Beers, grimly.

The next Move

The news from Carson City „really brought me down when I first heard it,“ said Wynn dealer Jesse Guest. „The chairman of the committee itself was a former dealer. I assume it’s going to disappoint everybody and that’s just going to add to our resolve.“

Guest’s colleague, baccarat dealer Dennis Laux, took it even harder. „When this happens,“ he said of Wynn’s policy, „I feel I’m not appreciated for the effort I put out for the casino so they can maximize their profits. Right now, our only protection is to come together. We’re all at jeopardy here.“

„It’s a shame,“ Laux added, „the way these corporations take from the little people.“

According to Guest, speaking on behalf of the 10-member organizing committee at Wynn, a hearing with the NLRB to determine the electoral process will come next. That, he hopes, will be followed by a vote within a month. Wynn spokeswoman Denise Randazzo could not be reached and a call to Wynn corporate counsel Kevin Tourek went unreturned.

An unbeaten Adversary

As for whether the newly militant dealers at Wynn will be able to maintain their pro-union majority until an election, Laux predicted „it’s gonna be a struggle because I’m sure the Wynn’s going to come at us with both barrels.“

Guest’s response was unequivocal. „Absolutely,“ he avowed. „I know (Wynn management) have hired Mark Garrity,“ he said, referring to an anti-union campaigner previously retained by Wynn, Boyd Gaming, Harrah’s Entertainment and MGM Mirage. In 2001 alone, Garrity’s firm — Boulder City-based Balance Inc. — made over USD 1.7 million from MGM Mirage. Garrity did not return a Business Press phone call, nor did spokesmen for former employers Harrah’s and Boyd.

„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,“ added Guest.

Garrity and the Transport Workers are old adversaries. In 2000-03, he represented The Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, The Mirage, Bellagio, MGM Grand Casino Hotel, New York-New York Hotel & Casino, Stardust Resort & Casino to, among other things, „do everything lawful to avoid contamination by TWU intervention.“ In all instances, Garrity prevailed.

Honesty the best Labor Policy

„Principally, what makes (Garrity) effective is he’s very candid, very honest,“ MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman explained. „In these circumstances, both sides can get caught up in overpromising. Mark is very direct in conveying what reality looks like,“ as well as facilitating communication between management and employees.

Wynn-employee representative Guest says he’s not been approached by dealers from other casinos and he’s not making approaches to them. „I have a feeling that everyone is watching this,“ he added, „and wants it over and done with.“

A popular rumor at press time had MGM Mirage making dealer positions at its Project CityCenter salary-only jobs. An MGM Mirage spokeswoman unequivocally denied that report.

MGM Mirage also has no intention of imposing tip-reallocation policies like Wynn’s, according to Feldman, who said the company had „a pretty healthy dialogue“ on the subject. „The best action that can be taken is constant, ongoing communication,“ he added, „not waiting for a problem to develop.“

According to one Wynn dealer, that’s not what’s happening at her place of employment. „It’s just a really hostile, paranoid environment,“ she said. „Everyone goes to ’suspended pending investigation.‘ There is no progressive discipline. Everyone is fearful of losing their jobs.“