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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz
 

Strip Tourists, Casino Officials Have a Mostly Quiet Day

2 May 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Imrich Kusnir, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, didn't see what all the hubbub was all about.

Kusnir, now a resident of Nashville, Tenn., and three friends came out of The Mirage on Monday morning, unaware that some immigrant Strip casino workers stayed home to take part in the nationwide Day Without Immigrants protest.

"Service has been fine, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary," said Kusnir, in Las Vegas on a weeklong holiday. "I'm an immigrant, but I'm on vacation. My parents are immigrants living in Florida, and they went to work. I really don't see the big deal."

Kusnir's girlfriend did notice one difference on the Strip.

"No one was handing out the nudie cards," she said of the ubiquitous folks who offer Strip pedestrians business cards and fliers that advertise escort services.

Along the Strip on Monday morning, tourists didn't notice anything out of the ordinary.

"We were a little worried at first, but there hasn't been any service problems," said Ron Allen, a tourist from Minneapolis who arrived Monday morning. "I remembered yesterday that (the national protest) was happening. But there doesn't seem like anything is going on here or back home."

As the midmorning temperatures crept toward 90 degrees, Forum Shops at Caesars employee Brenda Bacon tried to stay cool as she and a partner cleaned one of the shopping mall's outdoor fountains. She had no praise for anyone who skipped work Monday.

"I'm out here working. I don't see why they shouldn't be working also," Bacon said.

For the most part, Strip casinos reported little, if any, absenteeism.

A weeklong campaign by the city's largest resort corporations and the industry's largest labor union to get employees to ignore the protest seemed to have paid off. Gaming company spokesmen said immigrant casino workers reported to their jobs as scheduled.

In many cases, attendance was better than any typical Monday workday.

"At some of our properties, absenteeism was below-normal," said Harrah's Entertainment spokesman David Strow. "Some properties had as few as 10 people call in."

Harrah's operates six Strip casinos and the Rio on West Flamingo Road.

MGM Mirage spokeswoman Debra Nelson said the company's 10 Strip casinos reported no unusual absenteeism Monday.

"There has been no impact on services at any of our MGM Mirage properties," Nelson said.

Culinary Local 226, which represents some 60,000 hotel and casino workers -- 40 percent of whom are immigrants -- worked with gaming executives at casinos where the organization represents workers to set up petitions supporting immigration changes. Workers were asked to sign their names to the petitions, which call upon Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul package.

By lunchtime, almost 500 Caesars Palace workers had added their names to the petitions.

"I think our work paid off," said Culinary union organizer Anna Rapovy, who encouraged Caesars Palace workers to sign the petition outside the resort's employee dining room.

"We felt it was more important for our members to be at work today," Rapovy said. "(Signing the petition) gives them a feeling that they are taking part in the protest."

Paul Coppolecchia, who has spent eight years at Caesars Palace setting up conventions, said he told fellow workers -- immigrant and nonimmigrant -- that there was a simple reason to come to work Monday:A contract exists between the union and the hotel.

"They need to be here," Coppolecchia said. "We have a contract, and we need to honor it. That's what I told everyone."

Other casinos companies reported little in the way of workers staying home.

Boyd Gaming Corp. spokesman Rob Stillwell, whose company owns the Stardust, three downtown casinos and the Coast Casinos properties, said absenteeism was below-normal across the board.

Even the major nonunion resorts said the work force showed up Monday.

"The Venetian is fully staffed and fully functional," property spokesman Ron Reese said.

At the Station Casinos properties around Las Vegas, workers were invited to sign pre-addressed postcards to Nevada's congressional delegation calling for the passage of comprehensive immigration overhaul.

T-shirts with a pro-immigration message were worn by workers.

"We've had zero no-call no- shows," Valerie Murzl, Station Casinos corporate vice president of human resources, said. "It seems like we did the right thing here."