Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011 | 2 a.m.
- Zappos putting its stamp on downtown Las Vegas (10-18-2011)
- Culinary picks a ﬁght with UFC to get at Station (9-24-2011)
- Zappos CEO envisions a new community downtown (3-17-2011)
- Goodman: Zappos move a ‘watershed moment’ for downtown Las Vegas (12-1-2010)
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.”