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Chris Sieroty

More than 100 arrested as workers picket Cosmopolitan to spur contract negotiations

4 November 2013

LAS VEGAS -- More than 3,000 Culinary union members took to the Strip on Friday, blocking three lanes of traffic in front of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

The workers waved picket signs and chanted, “No justice, no peace,” and “We don’t get a contract, we don’t get no peace.”

As part of the two-hour demonstration, Las Vegas police officers arrested 120 Culinary members who entered the property about 5:30 p.m. The protesters sat in a circle just inside the resort’s Strip entrance. They wore shirts that read: “I’m getting arrested to provide for my family.”

For two and a half years, union organizers and the resort’s owner, Deutsche Bank, have been unable to reach a deal on a contract. The $3.9 billion Strip resort has yet to turn a profit since opening Dec. 15, 2010.

The two sides have been unable to agree on job security, health care and wages. The Culinary also is seeking a successorship clause or guarantee that the union contract would carry over should Deutsche Bank sell the property.

Culinary Local 226, which represents some 55,000 bartenders, maids and food servers, organized the protest. Organizers called it an act of civil disobedience and expected protesters to be arrested for blocking traffic on the Strip.

Cashious O’Brien, who has been a banquet server at the resort since it opened, said the fight was about getting a fair contract that provides health care and a guarantee that employees will have jobs should the property be sold.

Michelle DiManso, a cashier at the Wicked Spoon buffet, also has worked at The Cosmopolitan since it opened. When asked whether she feared that taking part in the protest would jeopardize her job, she said, “Not at all. I have my rights. We are looking for a contract.”

This is the third major demonstration at the Cosmopolitan this year, the Culinary said in a statement. Employees from MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment and other casino properties joined Cosmopolitan workers in their protest.

The Cosmopolitan issued a statement, saying it is bargaining in good faith.

“The Cosmopolitan management continues to negotiate in good faith with the Culinary union,” the statement said. “We feel we have been making good progress on behalf of our CoStars (employees) and we are hopeful that progress can continue in a positive direction. As always, our highest priority is the safety and comfort of our guests and CoStars, and we will continue to work with authorities.”

The Culinary’s campaign hasn’t been without controversy.

The Alliance to Protect Nevada Jobs, a workplace advocate group and project of the Workforce Fairness Institute, released videos where some Culinary members are seen calling tourists “scabs,” “beached whales,” and “losers for visiting The Cosmopolitan.”

Alliance spokesman Zachary Moyle reminded protesters that tourism bolsters the local economy by providing 300,000 jobs and complained about the burden such protests place on local public safety agencies. “We are here to say thank you to the visitors of The Cosmopolitan,” Moyle said on Friday.

On Wednesday, the Las Vegas-based group sent a letter to Clark County commissioners and the Clark County district attorney asking them to arrest Culinary members who attack tourists on the Strip.

The letter also demands that county officials respond to the union’s actions, “as they are doing serious damage to the Las Vegas economy.”

“These guerrilla tactics are telling visitors to Las Vegas to stay out of Clark County; they will cost the county jobs and threaten an already weak economy,” the alliance wrote. “The county must stand up for its citizens and move to protect the tourists it invites into the county.”