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February 1, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

How about delivering them from unfairness?


Gregan Wingert

A group delivers happiness to downtown area businesses by doing a reverse picket, April 20, 2012.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

I received a press release recently that read, “A team of approximately 40 community volunteers and downtown supporters will ‘invade’ downtown Las Vegas on Friday, April 20 to perform a Random Act of Happiness.”

Hey, I lived in the Northwest, and it was — wink-wink, nod-nod — 4/20 and I’m hip to it, so I decided to see what fun downtown activists had cooked up.

I arrived at the Beat Coffeehouse to find “volunteers” making homemade signs like “This place rocks!” and “We Heart LV shops.” I learned that Delivering Happiness is the for-profit venture that has sprung out of Tony Hsieh’s book of the same name. For profit? You can hire them as consultants to teach your company — or nonprofit or whatever — about “happiness” as a management principle.

I think there’s a Simpsons episode in here somewhere.

Most of the employees, I was told, live in the Bay Area, which became evident when the happiness people boarded the Delivering Happiness bus and went to City Hall, only to learn that Las Vegas City Hall is closed Fridays because of the recession and resulting budget crisis.

They got back on the bus and went to the Smith Center, where they marched around with their signs in a “reverse picket,” which is a fun, happy picket with no real demands. This was supposed to contrast with most pickets, which are usually so negative, an organizer said. Demanding an end to the war in Iraq or the right to sit at the same lunch counter as white people? Sooo negative.

It was so pathetic that I was amused, but I was also a little angry. It was an insult to activists everywhere, including the downtowners who have worked hard to transform downtown.

A few days later, I went to an entirely different kind of demonstration, this one at Palace Station, where the Culinary Union was demonstrating against Station Casinos by way of a seven-day hunger strike by 12 Station workers and five others.

The union has been trying to organize the locals giant for years and accuses the company of interrogation, surveillance and the firing and disciplining of workers involved in the union drive. A federal administrative law judge agreed last year and forwarded the charges to a three-member panel of the National Labor Relations Board. The company continues to dispute the charges, which it says are merely technical and part of a campaign of “ongoing harassment” by the union.

I talked to Mike Wagner, Ignacio Martinez and Norma Flores, all Station workers who took a week of vacation to sleep in a tent and not eat.

What’s really at issue is whether the company will submit to an organizing process known as “card check.” This means if a majority of the workers sign a card saying they want a union, they get a union. That’s how the union organized most of the Strip and swelled its membership to more than 50,000 workers.

The company wants a secret-ballot election. “There’s no fairer process than the one federal law allows for, to allow employees to decide in private whether they want to be represented by the union,” said Lori Nelson, a company spokeswoman. The organizing drive, she said, is about increasing union membership, and, thus, Culinary’s coffers.

She called card check “a one-sided process in which members are coerced into signing a card in front of their peers and the Culinary Union.”

That seems reasonable, except that companies have mastered the techniques of subtle and not-so-subtle intimidation prior to the elections, contributing to a collapse in private-sector unions.

But I’m getting deep in the weeds here. Flores, a kitchen runner at Fiesta Henderson, talked about life as a single mother of six. She said she pays $217 per month for health care for her and her family. On the Strip, Culinary members pay nothing. Similarly, unionized Strip room attendants make 30 percent more than their counterparts at hotels in other cities.

Even with the recession, Las Vegas has a thriving middle class, thanks in large part to the union, whose members make good wages, allowing them to buy shoes from Zappos.

The Delivering Happiness people should have visited the hunger strike. Isn’t justice a prerequisite of happiness?

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  1. Mr. Coolican, are you serious?!?

  2. Mr. Coolican, while I appreciate your desire to make a journalistic contrast, your trashing of the Delivering Happiness movement was both inaccurate and disingenuous. The reverse picketers were almost exclusively from Las Vegas and I myself would have been there if my schedule had permitted.
    One can support the intentions and positions of the Culinary Movement without bashing Delivering Happiness. Since you obviously made no real attempt either to be balanced or informed about Delivering Happiness and its impact on the Las Vegas downtown scene, here is a link that hopefully you will find helpful, which will provide you with some background on Delivering Happiness Inspire!:
    If, for example, you had attended this month's Inspire! event, you would have seen a packed crowd being informed and inspired about the Zappos Downtown Project, the innovative Las Vegas StartUp Tracky [which just received its first $1 million round of funding] and the Build A Greener Block promoters,, among other amazing Las Vegas presentations.

    As a longtime Las Vegas resident, former disability, immigration and civil rights attorney, I see harmony and great insight coming from the Delivering Happiness movement and also great support for the emergent Vegas Tech and Vegas Jelly sectors as well.
    If you have bothered to interview any of the reverse picketers who did attend you would have found a number of the leaders of the emergent downtown tech and creative commons community, entitled Shift Vegas. Please refer to for more related information.

    I am especially disappointed in this hatchet job on Delivering Happiness, Mr. Coolican, because I generally agree with your political positions and find many of your columns to be thoughtful and insightful.

    This column, unfortunately, is not representative of the quality reporting that I have come to expect from you.

  3. This is what should have been obvious to Mr. Coolican: the fact that community activism comes in many forms, some more inclusive and non-threatening and uplifting than others. Yes, not only is there room for both types of activism but the cross-pollination of both forms of progressive change and empowerment should be engendered and encouraged. And, the scientific basis for promoting Happiness and Delivering effectiveness at work of the type that is being encouraged and supported by the Delivering Happiness pioneers needs to be examined and disseminated as well.
    Delivering Happiness is much more than a feel good random acts of happiness "producer." While it may appear to be warm and fuzzy and fluffy on the outside, it is really a hard-edged, reason driven, results oriented, bottom line management consultancy as well. There are great reasons why Delivering Happiness the book became a best seller, formed an international bus tour and has fostered a global movement. I invite Mr. Coolican to learn more about it. He may just be enlightened.

  4. What a better world we would have if folks could 'shift' their mindsets into a more positive frame!

    When we do the Lord's Prayer and get to the "deliver us from evil..." part, the next step is to ask to be filled with hope, love, joy, and promise; pleasure in service to our fellow beings. I imagine that can happen one person at a time as this reverse picket is trying to call attention to.

    Blessings and Peace,

  5. Since it is a "free" country, what's the beef with both sides having different opinions? Unions are merely window dressing for socialism; everyone, regardless of experience or productivity, gets the same pay. Some object to that and rightly so, if you are ambitious. Meanwhile, businesses of every size have a much different view. They want to be able to weed out the incompetants, increase productivity and fatten their wallets, all at the same time. This is a classic collision of the unstoppable force vs. the unmovable mountain. Personally, I couldn't care less which side prevails!

  6. I find it interesting that you compare the Room Attendants wages to out of state wages but did not compare them to Stations wages.

    Why won't the Union agree to secret ballet? If we can elect a President that way why can't they vote for a union that way?

  7. Kudu's for Stations, I applaud them for not being union and doing what's best to operate and run a company, non-union. The instant they sign a union agreement, they've lost all control and have to succumb to the union's lazy pathetic labor force that does nothing but drive up their cost where the bottom dollar is severely impacted. I wish nothing good for any union; they've desecrated themselves into an organization that is useless. When they clean up their house and employee qualified American workers, maybe it will be seen differently, until then, they can pound sand.

  8. Reid: you live in San Diego. Could we not spew national political hatred for a while in response to purely local matters?