Las Vegas Sun

September 2, 2014

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Culinary’s attacks on Tony Hsieh called ‘disgusting’

When he’s out in downtown Las Vegas, an area he’s almost single-handedly helping to revitalize, Tony Hsieh is often greeted like a conquering hero. People ask for photos, pitch him on business ideas and generally bask in the reflected light of the Zappos.com CEO who will move his company to the area next year.

But during a recent meal downtown, Hsieh found himself under verbal attack from a handful of fellow diners, members of the Culinary Union who demonstrated their union’s willingness to attack even the popular in their feud with Station Casinos and those who do business with the non-union employer.

Culinary Union Local 226 has long sought to unionize Station Casinos’ 13,000 employees.

Zappos, which sells shoes and clothes over the Internet, does business with Station Casinos in this way: When executives with outside companies venture to Las Vegas for Zappos’ two-day boot camp, the company houses them at nearby Green Valley Ranch Resort, a Station Casinos property. Until its move downtown, Zappos is headquartered in Henderson, near Green Valley Parkway and Interstate 215.

It’s that connection that led to Hsieh coming under attack Friday night at Le Thai restaurant on Fremont Street.

Onlookers who did not wish to be named told the Sun that Hsieh was dining when someone from a nearby table asked if he was Tony Hsieh. When he said yes, four or five people from that table began haranguing him about Zappos and Green Valley Ranch.

Hsieh repeatedly told them that his focus is revitalizing downtown and that he isn’t in the arbitration business.

The confrontation dragged on for about 30 minutes.

This isn’t the first effort by the Culinary Union to call out Hsieh and Zappos. At a recent First Friday, Culinary members badgered Hsieh as he sat at a table signing books.

Union members also sometimes wade into downtown taverns and distribute fliers stating, “Do the right thing, Zappos!” One flier goes on to tell Zappos to “tell Station Casinos to stop attacking workers.” At the Artifice, a tavern in the Arts District, bartenders collected and tore up the fliers in front of the Culinary distributors.

The union also has a website, ZapposWatch.net, which plays on Zappos’ “Delivering Happiness” motto with this: “Zappos: Delivering Headaches.” It allows people to anonymously submit complaints about the company.

To some, there’s an irony in the union’s targeting of Zappos. The company’s move downtown is expected to draw not only new businesses — including restaurants, taverns and high-tech startups — but likely more people to Fremont Street casinos, an ailing lot that has been unionized by the Culinary but offers lesser benefits compared with Strip properties with union pacts. At the same time, Hsieh is pouring millions of dollars of his own money into downtown, has helped keep at least one restaurant open, has committed to donating $1.5 million to help encourage Teach for America members and alumni to move downtown, and has plans to help fund dozens of new businesses on Fremont Street.

As these critics of the Culinary see it, Zappos’ relocation to the area and Hsieh’s investments will do more than any development in recent memory to enrich downtown casinos, which in turn could create a more secure job environment for the casinos’ unionized employees.

Asked if the union’s attacks on Hsieh are a case of biting a hand that could feed, Yvanna Cancela, Culinary Union political director, said the union “wants to make sure that Tony and the rest of (Zappos) knows what’s going on.”

Cancela added that the union wants “to build a relationship with Zappos where we work together as they move downtown.”

Asked for comment, Zappos released a statement addressing harassing behavior:

“In the event that our employees are found to have been subjected to harassment by customers, vendors, or third parties, we will take all reasonable steps to prevent its recurrence, up to and including terminating our relationships and dialogue with those customers, vendors or third parties. … Our priority is the safety and well-being of our employees, and we will not respond to any tactics that include any type of harassment or bullying and threatening behavior.”

Several Zappos employees have already moved downtown, and maybe hundreds or thousands more could follow as the company relocates its headquarters there.

The Culinary Union’s attacks on Hsieh don’t sit well with Richard Worthington, president of the Downtown Las Vegas Alliance and real estate developers the Molasky Group of Cos., which is headquartered downtown. The alliance is a nonprofit aiming to improve business and neighborhoods in the area.

“It’s disgusting and it demonstrates the means the Culinary leadership will use to increase their ranks in membership,” Worthington said. “Here you’ve got a corporate leader who is bringing jobs to downtown Las Vegas — it’s a growth company adding some 50 employees a month to its payroll — and for the Culinary to attempt to intimidate him is disgusting.”

Worthington said he trusts that Hsieh “is the man I think he is, someone with conviction and motivation. This won’t deter him.”

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  1. There is no "reasoning" with thugs and a few of Culinary's members and officials fit that description. They have little respect for the rights of others and are boorish to the extreme. There are avenues for Culinary to pursue in their ongoing attempt to unionize Station Casinos. Berating outsiders for not agreeing with their agenda is not one of them.

  2. Confrontation is NOT the way to endear any successful business person. In fact, it leaves a bad taste in one's mouth. The things that have made Zappos successful is that fact that people are happy to work there. Why doesn't the Culinary Union build a few Hotels and Casino's of their own? They could partner up with those unemployed construction workers, those unemployed teamsters, and just "gitter-done". Offer some rooms to Zappos and I am sure the problem is solved. Not..the Culinary Union has done so much for downtown. Thanks. Hang tight Tony, and turn on your recorder.

  3. People suck. Leave the man alone while he eats. Everyone does business with Non union business'. It is a right to work state so damn near every business in town is non union. The big casinos are union and some of the trucking companies have union affiliation but for the most part if you go into a 7 - 11 or a gas station or a local book store there are non union employees there. They are everywhere in Nevada.
    I have said it many times..."If your union members aren't getting hired by local business and if the general public and most business' hate you and your local then you should probably look inward for the reason for your problems.

  4. Years ago Al Capone would send his guys into a business and make that business an offer. Do it my way, pay me my fee's and I will see you are left alone.

    It appears that is the model that the Union is using these days. They go after anyone that has even the smallest connection to Stations.

    Stations has 13,000 employees. If they wanted to be union they would vote to be union. It appears that Stations employees are generally happy not being union though or they would take a vote. This has been going on for over 15 years now and still no vote.

    At some point it becomes harassment and the public needs to tell the union they are starting to step over that line.

  5. I think that Zappos does have a responsibility in its procurement of outside services to use non-station properties because beyond the union issue Stations owns and promotes UFC which refuses to have a code of conduct for its fighters.

    This corporation actively profits from hate jokes about homosexuality, rape, and other bad behavior, PLUS pays its fighters a bonus of $5000 each quarter to the guy who gets the most hits on his offensive tweet.

    THEN UFC has the nerve to actively market to our children. Dana White president of UFC wants all children to watch UFC despite its blood and the behavior of fighters. Check out www.unfitforchildren.org with the video details.

    Zappos should be a good corporate neighbor and not tolerate this kind of activity from its business partners. Mr. Hseigh should be appalled by the anti-asian sentiment of these fighters easily shown on YouTube from their visit to Japan.

    Zappos would not tolerate f@g jokes in its halls or any of its employees saying rape is fun to co-workers - so don't further line the pockets of the people who do!

    Zappos can't be the voice of progressive business while helping those who don't support our values enough that HATE is not OK in our community.

    Concerned parents and survivors of rape have called upon UFC to adopt a code of conduct which UFC has never taken seriously and in fact its President Dana White continues to stir the pot by emphasizing his players can say ANYTHING.

    Zappos has a culture of zero tolerance for hate speech why not only do business with companies who do the same?

    Again if a Zappos employee acted like a UFC fighter I trust from the people I know who work there that they would be promptly and without hesitation shown the door. So why the double standard?

    I would hope that parents, rape survivors, and LGBTQ employees of Zappos bring this up in their own culture. It is part of being a good corporate neighbor.

    When you say one thing - and act another way - you lose credibility as a good corporate neighbor.

  6. Are we about to see a return of the union car bombs, circa 1977?

    Where is Al Bramlet and Tom Hanley when the union needs them?

  7. keystone6.....where is your credibility? Give your real name please.

  8. So why does the Culinary Union not protest McDonald's? I mean they're workers, probably at least over a thousand in Las Vegas at this chain alone, and they do actually work with food unlike a good portion of the Union's current members.

    I mean if the Union is doing all of this pushing and "fighting" as an effort to improve the lives of people, why are the lives of fast food workers not as important to them? How does a union claim equality and fairness when some of the people who truly need their help, said union ignores and continues to force them to live in poverty?

    It's a redundant question, I know. But I think it should be honestly asked of the CU if nothing else to simply prove that they're really just a corporation that does hostile takeovers of other companies workforces.

  9. Chunky says:

    Regardless of the reasoning, celebrities, politicians, business leaders and other public figures should be left alone during dinner and personal times.

    This man is doing so much for Las Vegas and to have a handful of people interrupt him during his meal is poor taste and poor judgement.

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  10. Sorry Mr. Jackson but your theory is incorrect.

    Down Town is already better then it was just a year ago.

    Those that live here and work at changing things are good for Vegas and the people of Vegas. Those that predict doom and gloom all the time have very unhappy lives and will never see anything in a better light.

  11. I am a native Las Vegan and I have to say that downtown is getting better. The naysayers haven't been down there in awhile I would gather. I worked at the Horseshoe years ago and have a softspot for it. It's not in huge jumps but people like Hsieh are making a difference there.

    The Culinary needs to have a talk with the people that approached Hsieh and ask them why they thought that was a good idea. Also GVR is within viewing distance from Zappos HQ, why wouldn't you put people up there that are in town to see Zappos? When they go downtown they may end up in a union hotel. To say that from merely using their hotel services counts as a ringing endorsement of everything Station Casinos and Fertita related is the epitome of ignorance.

  12. UNITE HERE is a disgusting union overall, concerned only about the dues they can get from workers who get virtually nothing in return. They continually try to organize workers who don't want to be organized. In Atlantic City, the union tried to stop development of the first new casino in almost 10 years because the president wouldn't insist that his restaurant tenants be required to be unionized. So rather than create thousands of new jobs for its members, the union was willing to stop development of this project that is good for everyone. There is no level the union will stoop to so it can get more money in its coffers and more power to stop entire cities over increased wages. I'm surprised the members don't revolt over the reckless way the union spends their dues and sullies its reputation.

  13. Hsieh is making an impression in Las Vegas and the union wants to beat on him a bit because his workforce is not unionized, IMO. Does anyone know how much money Zappos employees make? The profiles I see on TV make it appear that everyone is between 18 and 40 years old, and they probably make $10 to 15 per hour. I would guess that Station Casinos pays much more than Zappos in wages and benefits.
    Zappos appears to be a fun place to work, filled with the "happiness" that Hsieh is selling in his books. But does this look like a company that is prepared to provide a satisfying career for people all their adult lives (which are currently projected to be 50 years of working) and provide them with a comfortable retirement?

  14. Let the guy eat in peace. The Union should fight in public and not over table cloths. This is a mafia technique. It creates more problems then it solves, and I support the Union cause.

  15. That is a idiot's move from the Union Thugs. Not everyone in Unions are not that way, the everyday people that visit a Stations Casino & the local Walmart. Zappos will need to feed its people downtown, 12,000 to 20,000 employees will not want to frequent McDonald's & Subway; these people will end up at the unionized casinos buffets and restaurants. Union Leaders, don't cut yourselves at a foot, get Mr. Hsieh a chance to shine!

  16. Wow, who would ever think that a union would use thuggery, intimidation and harassment to get their way??

    Would you expect anything less from these low life's who extort money from their members to use as they see fit??