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Howard Stutz

Casinos Push Petition, Not Protest

27 April 2006

LAS VEGAS -- Top executives representing the Strip's major casinos and the gaming industry's largest labor union urged employees to come to work Monday, saying they could do more in the effort for comprehensive immigration reform by staying on their jobs, rather than participating in a national day of protest.

A planned nationwide job boycott by immigrants on Monday, designed to draw attention to the role they play in the U.S. economy, is part of the ongoing debate in Washington concerning an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.

During a news conference Wednesday at the Stardust, D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the 50,000-member Culinary Local 226, said casino workers can do more to help bring about immigration reform by going to their jobs.

"May 1st is just one day," Taylor said. "On May 2nd, May 3rd or May 10th, we still have to get a bill through Congress that is comprehensive and addresses the core issues (of immigration reform)."

Casino executives fear thousands of Hispanic workers could take part in the planned Day Without Immigrants protest and cripple the Strip hospitality industry. Hispanic workers account for some 40 percent of the membership of the union, which represents cooks, maids, waiters, waitresses, bellhops and housekeepers at casino resorts on the Strip, said union political director Pilar Weiss.

Instead of boycotting their jobs for a day, Taylor asked employees to come to work and sign large petitions that will be placed in employee dining areas inside casinos along the Strip, downtown and at unionized properties that cater to local customers.

Also on Monday, the union will sponsor a rally at 6 p.m. at the Fremont Street Experience that will recognize the contributions immigrant labor has made to the gaming industry.

The petition will be printed in several languages, including Spanish and Chinese.

The petition asks Congress to adopt a plan for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship; plans for the future flow of workers and family members; protects workers; reunites families; and helps communities promote citizenship and civic participation.

Taylor said the gaming industry has been built by the efforts of an immigrant work force and that casino companies have recognized the contributions of those employees.

"The union and the gaming industry have been working on this issue hand in hand for years," Taylor said. "We're not Johnny Come Lately."

Gary Loveman, Harrah's Entertainment chairman and chief executive officer, Terry Lanni, MGM Mirage chairman and chief executive officer, Keith Smith, Boyd Gaming president, and Andrew Pascal, Wynn Las Vegas president, attended the news conference and were the first to sign the petition, followed by about two dozen Culinary workers.

Together, the gaming executives spoke on behalf of 19 Strip casinos.

"We are a nation of immigrants, and this is an issue that affects all of us," Lanni said. "These are employees who have come to this country looking for opportunities and they have taken advantage of those opportunities by earning good jobs."

Lanni said the gaming companies will discuss immigration reform with members of Nevada's congressional delegation and congressional leaders of both parties to voice the concern of the companies and employees.

More than half of MGM's 70,000 workers are minorities, and 30 percent are Hispanic, company officials said.

Pascal said the message has been sent to employees of Wynn Las Vegas that they are expected to be at their shifts on Monday. However, the casino is making contingency plans if there is a large amount of absenteeism. In some job classifications, Pascal said immigrant labor makes up 50 percent of the resort's work force.

He said a large rate of employees staying away could have a "potentially devastating impact" on the services offered by Las Vegas hotel-casinos.

"(The petition) is a viable alternative," Pascal said. "We're encouraging everybody to be responsible."

Miguel Abad, who buses tables at the Les Artistes Steakhouse at Paris Las Vegas, signed the petition after the news conference. A U.S. resident for 14 years and now an American citizen, Abad said he has told fellow Paris immigrant employees they could do more good by staying on the job.

"One day is not going make a difference," Abad said. "We have to get a solution for this issue. Rather than stay out of work, we have to send a message to Congress."

Taylor said the names of between 50,000 and 70,000 casino employees on a petition calling for comprehensive immigration reform would send Congress "a powerful message from Nevada."

"These petitions are not going to stay here. They're going to Congress," Taylor said. "We view this as much broader than just one group. Our congressional delegation needs to hear this message in a unified way and in very strong terms."

While Hispanic immigrants have been the focus of the immigration reform issue, Taylor said the matter cuts across a wide path. He said one Las Vegas resort, where employees are covered by the Culinary union, has workers representing 84 nationalities.

"It's a compliment to this industry that they have embraced the contributions of immigrant workers," Taylor said. "This is a hotly debated issue right now in the streets of every single city in this country. In some ways, we haven't seen anything like this since the civil rights movement."

While Culinary representatives will place the petitions in all properties where it represents workers, nonunion Las Vegas resorts also could feel the effects of any one-day worker boycott.

At Station Casinos, which has more than 14,000 nonunion workers in 15 casinos, plans are under way to help employees support a change in immigration laws.

Company Vice President of Human Resources Valerie Murzl said initiatives throughout all properties involving workers would demonstrate Station's commitment toward immigration reform.

At The Venetian, the Strip's largest nonunion resort, spokesman Ron Reese declined to discuss the property's plans for next week should immigrant employees participate in the boycott.