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Arnold M. Knightly

Battle looms for tip sharing

12 February 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Wynn Las Vegas and a few nonprofit corporations representing businesses that depend on tipped employees are seeking to stop an attempt to roll back the resort's new tip policy.

The resort and the nonprofit groups filed a lawsuit Thursday in Carson City District Court to block a petition authored by critics of the resort's new tip-pooling policy.

"There is a fear on Wynn's part that if it gets to the voters, it will pass," International Union of Gaming Employees director Al Maurice said. "There are too many tip earners in the state."

The petition seeks to create a ballot initiative that would add language to an existing state labor law. The initiative would prohibit employers "from requiring the employee to share tips with certain other employees." It also would, according to its authors, define which employees would be eligible to participate in tip sharing.

The petition was filed in late January by the PEST Committee, which is backed by the nonprofit union. Approximately 58,000 signatures are needed by Nov. 11 for the initiative to be considered by the Legislature in 2009. If enough signatures are collected, the petition would either be enacted into law by the 2009 Legislature or put to voters.

However, Carson City attorney Bob Crowell, who is representing Wynn and the nonprofits, said the petition itself faces several legal problems, including violating a state law that requires petitions to deal with a single subject and some enforcement issues.

In addition to Wynn Las Vegas, the plaintiffs are the Nevada Restaurant Association, the Retail Association of Nevada, the Nevada Motor Transport Association, Nevada Manufacturers Association and the Nevada Tavern Association.

International Union of Gaming Employees Vice President Jack Lipsman said the union's attorneys are going through the lawsuit to try to come up with language for the initiative by the end of the month.

Retail Association Chief Executive Officer and President Mary Lau believes that even though the initiative was apparently aimed at protecting casino dealers, a law could affect other industries. For instance, the proposed law could stop waitresses from sharing tips with busboys or change how tip jar proceeds are divided up at smaller restaurant counters.

"There's a lot more questions than answers on this," Lau said. "It's like undoing employment law."

Attempts to reach Wynn Las Vegas for comment were not successful.

Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Henderson, said the groups are fighting the petition because they believe if the initiative comes before voters it would pass. He helped author a bill during the 2007 Legislature that would have banned Wynn's tip-sharing policy. It was passed in the Assembly but died in a Senate committee.

"I've been disappointed a lot by how the state gives one type of justice to the average working people and another type of justice to the powerful and wealthy. This is an example of it," he said.

"It leaves the people of Nevada no other choice than to use the initiative process," Maurice said. "We need to bypass the Legislature because it is obvious the Legislature is owned by the casinos."

The union, which operates more as an advocacy group than a working union, has been exploring legal avenues since Wynn Las Vegas added some managers to the list of people who qualify for a share of the lucrative tip pool at the casino.