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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Casino industry: Dealers at Wynn resort ratify union

14 May 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Casino dealers at Wynn Las Vegas voted by an almost a 3-1 margin in favor of union representation despite an impassioned eleventh hour hour plea by company Chairman Steve Wynn, who told his workers on the eve of the election it had been a mistake to implement a controversial change in the tip pooling program that led to the employee unrest.

Wynn dealers voted in the National Labor Relations Board-sanctioned election Saturday and early Sunday morning.

NLRB representatives were unavailable Sunday and did not release the vote total. But the final tally, 444 for union representation, 149 opposed, was confirmed by both dealers' representatives and Wynn executives.

Once the labor organization officially certifies the vote, the New York-based Transport Workers Union of America will be allowed to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for the dealers with hotel executives.

Wynn Las Vegas employs around 700 full-time and part-time dealers at the lavish Strip casino, which opened in April 2005 at a cost of $2.7 billion. Wynn Resorts is currently building Encore, an accompanying $2.1 billion hotel-casino that is expected to open in 2009.

Wynn representatives were not available for comment Sunday.

But Frank McCann Jr., who directed the organizing drive for the Transport Workers, said he believes the union and Wynn executives can come to common ground on a contract.

"We'll get information from the Wynn people and we have what the dealers would like to see happen, and we believe we can get something done quickly," McCann said.

The overwhelming majority vote for union representation came despite a personal appeal from Wynn, who asked to the dealers not to bring in an outside organization as their representative.

Wynn spoke to dealers Thursday in a group setting for about 20 minutes. The speech was recorded by a dealer and posted on the Internet. In the meeting, Wynn said NLRB regulations forbid him from making promises in order to sway votes so he stopped short of telling dealers he would eliminate the tip-pooling program.

However, Wynn accepted full blame for implementing the tip-pooling program last September.

"I got it wrong, I hurt you and I apologize," Wynn said. "Sometimes people with good intentions make mistakes."

On Sept. 1, Wynn executives added certain managers and casino supervisors to the list of those who qualify to share in the casino's often-times lucrative tip pool. Wynn dealers said that before the tip pooling program was started, they could earn $100,000 or more annually.

Wynn Las Vegas management said it started the policy to correct a pay disparity that had dealers earning more than their supervisors.

Critics argued Wynn Las Vegas should raise managers' pay, not broaden the tip pool. Dealers say the change is costing them as much as $20,000 per year.

"This was my mistake and I only have myself to blame," Wynn said. "I have a 40-year history of taking care of the people I work with.

"What this caused was the loss of the feeling of family warmth and happiness that we had here. I got it wrong. I tried to do right for the bosses but I hurt you. I made a mistake," he also said.

Wynn didn't take questions, but told dealers he was "preoccupied" in September with the Wynn Resorts opening of the Wynn Macau, the company's $1 billion hotel-casino in Chinese gaming enclave.

The tip-pooling program spawned nine months of heated debate at the hotel, including complaints by dealers with the state labor commissioner, a lawsuit filed by two dealers in District Court, sidewalk protests by dealers and proposed legislation in Carson City that would ban the tip-sharing agreement.

Wynn, however, complimented his workers, saying Wynn Las Vegas achieved five-star and five diamond ratings despite the controversy.

"I understand how steamed and how betrayed you feel, but you are classy because you took care of our customers," Wynn said.

Wynn Las Vegas has union contracts covering various cross sections of the 9,000-person work force, including a lengthy deal with Culinary Workers Local 226, than expires in 2015.

However, Wynn told dealers representation by the Transport Worked Union would be a mistake.

"A union comes between the employer, me, and you," Wynn said. "It complicates our relationship. Our future as a family is based on use being together."

Employees applauded Wynn at the close of the talk.

McCann said it seemed logical, based on Wynn's comments, that the first thing he would do is eliminate the tip-pooling program.

"The organizing committee did a very good job, and now we'll move forward," McCann said.

The Transport Workers is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and represents 130,000 employees across the country in mass transportation, airlines, railroads, utilities, higher education and municipalities.

In 2001, the Transport Workers Union moved to organize dealers at 13 casinos, winning elections at the Tropicana, Stratosphere and New Frontier, but was defeated at other properties.

McCann said Sunday the union represents casino workers at The New Frontier.