Published Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009 | noon
Updated Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009 | 8:56 p.m.
Hundreds of dealers and Transport Worker Union members gathered in front Caesars Palace Thursday afternoon to show their support for the casino’s dealers during prolonged union contract negotiations.
Tourists weaved in and out of the sea of TWU members, dealers and supporters as they tried to make their way down Las Vegas Boulevard.
Demonstrators, dressed uniformly in red union T-shirts, held signs reading “Contract now” and “Give Caesars dealers a fair deal.” Their chant: Two years is too long.
Caesars dealers and Harrah’s Entertainment management have been unable to negotiate a union contract since the casino’s dealers voted in December 2007 by a 3 to 1 margin to be represented by Local 721 of the Gaming Division of TWU.
“Basically what the dealers are asking for is just the status quo; no raises or new benefits or anything like that,” TWU spokesman Jamie Horowitz said. “They just want to have a union agreement that gives them a voice to talk to their employer, that honors seniority, that gives them some rules that cant be changed overnight.”
Dealers have gone largely unrepresented in Las Vegas while other casino workers, including bartenders, electrical workers and food servers, have union representation, TWU representatives said.
“These employees came to us wanting representation. There’s got to be a reason for that; reasons that management creates,” TWU International President Jim Little said.
Harrah’s Vice President and spokeswoman Marybel Batjer responded to Thursday’s rally with this statement: “The Transit Workers of America certainly have the right to assemble. It is difficult to understand however, why any group would demonstrate or in any manner attempt to disrupt business in this difficult recessionary period. We want our guests to come to Las Vegas to enjoy themselves and have an exciting, fun time. This is hardly the time for customers to be disturbed or hassled by union demonstrations.”
As a dealer at Caesars Palace for almost 17 years and now an officer with TWU Local 721, Ernie Acevedo has seen the benefits of union representation for other employee groups that he, as a dealer, has done without.
“There are so many unions already on property, and they all enjoy protections under a contract that gives them a voice with leadership and disciplinary hearings and some sort of protections. We don’t have that. We only want what unions have already enjoyed for years and years at Caesars Palace,” Acevedo said.
Acevedo said when he started his career as a dealer, he made $29 per eight hour shift, not including tips. Now, 39 years later, Acevedo makes $62 per shift, he said.
But the dealers aren’t looking for pay increases in the union contract, TWU representatives said, and have been, for the most part, OK with the hourly wages because of their tips. Acevedo said tips make up more than 80 percent of dealers income.
Steve Wynn implemented a controversial plan in August 2006 for dealers to share part of their tips with supervisors. In late 2007, Wynn dealers voted 3 to 1 for union representation under TWU Local 721.
Although Harrah’s has pledged not to dip into dealers’ tips, without union representation, the casino could do so if they choose, Acevedo said.
“When they start infringing on our tips, that’s a problem. We have families to take care of,” Acevedo said. Say if they take 20 percent of our tips, all of sudden, bills aren’t going to get paid. We’re just trying to protect what we already have.”
Paula Angelos, a dealer at Caesars for almost 15 years, makes about $7.50 an hour — not including tips — barely enough to cover her federal income tax, she said.
“We don’t want to be like Wynn where we have to share our tips with everyone. We want to have control of our money,” Angelos said.
With recent casino ownerships changes, Angelos said, she fears a management shift at Caesars could result in layoffs of dealers.
“With all the management changes, they can let us go at any time for any reason,” Angelos said. “We want protection for the good work that we do that makes Caesars what it is without worrying about coming in one day and finding out we’ve been bought again and hear, ‘Oh, I don’t like you. You’re gone.’”
Horowitz, the TWU spokesman, accused management of trying to wear down the union.
“They just think that it’s a stalling game. They think if they just stall long enough that people will get frustrated and leave and the union effort will fizzle,” Horowitz said.
Little said by not agreeing to a contract, Harrah’s is taking of advantage of the fact that dealers have remained ununionized in Las Vegas.
“They don’t want to have a grievance-handling process, they don’t want to terminate people for just cause. They just want to arbitrarily mistreat them, and yet they have contracts with all these other employee groups.”
TWU Local 721 is set to sit down with Harrah’s management for contact negotiations again on Sept. 24.