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Howard Stutz

Workers Unsure About Protest

28 April 2006

and Jennifer Robison

LAS VEGAS -- A day after local labor leaders and casino executives said workers could do more for immigration reform by going to work, rumors were circulating that any workers staying away would be fired.

Whether gaming and hospitality employees will stay away from their jobs to participate in the planned Day Without Immigrants protest was anyone's guess.

"Fifty-fifty," replied the Hispanic employee, who declined to give his name. "Some say they're coming in, and others say they'll stay away."

Added another Hispanic Wynn kitchen worker, "People talk a lot, and they say a lot of stuff. We'll see if they stay away."

A day after Culinary Local 226 and Nevada's largest unionized casino operators publicly encouraged immigrant workers to reject the one-day boycott, the issue was still up for debate. The national boycott is designed to draw attention to the role immigrants play in the U.S. economy.

Instead of staying away from their jobs, employees were asked by the Culinary and corporate gaming executives to come to work and sign copies of a large petition placed in employee dining areas inside unionized casinos along the Strip, downtown and at properties that cater to local customers.

The petition calls on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

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

Culinary Local 226 leaders were out in force Thursday in Strip and downtown casinos, handing out fliers to casino employees written in English and Spanish that asked them not to participate in Monday's protest.

According to the flier, "Calls for immigrants to stay home from work and school on May 1 are irresponsible. Our Union, and other community leaders do not support these statements."

Casino executives fear thousands of Hispanic workers could take part in the planned protest, which could cripple the Strip hospitality industry. Hispanic workers account for some 40 percent of the 60,000-member Culinary union.

Hispanic workers on the Strip who were interviewed Thursday generally said they would be at work on Monday unless it was their scheduled day off.

A janitor sweeping floors inside Circus Circus said union officials told her and other members to go to work Monday, but to refrain from buying food or gasoline that day to show immigrants' economic impact. She said she believes "everybody will come to work."

The worker added that management at the MGM Mirage-owned Circus Circus had not expressed specific policies concerning employees who fail to show up for work on Monday.

She will be unable to attend the Monday rally on Fremont Street because she is slated to work at 6 p.m., but she said she believes the Culinary's approach, with an after-hours demonstration downtown replacing a work stoppage, is the right one.

"It's good that people are helping other people," she said. "Why not help other immigrants? Other people are coming here for hard work and to make a little more money. They are working for their families."

A housekeeper cleaning rooms inside Circus Circus expressed similar sentiments.

She said she understood that management at the hotel would fire staffers who posted unexcused absences on Monday, so she will be on-site then. But she'll also attend the union event after she gets off work. Most of her co-workers also plan to come to the rally, she said.

"I think (the union's plan) is a good way to handle (it)," she said. "You have to work anyway. You need the money. Most people will come to work."

Another housekeeper at Circus Circus kept the union's May 1 flier folded up in his shirt pocket, and referred to it when asked to describe communications he had received about Monday's activities.

"We'll be at work. I doubt we will stay at home," he said.

He added that Circus Circus managers told him and other workers they would lose their jobs if they didn't show up for their appointed shifts.

However, the housekeeper said he wasn't sure he would attend the downtown rally, because he has "a lot of things to do."

Like other Circus Circus employees, he said the Culinary's ideas for drawing attention to immigration reform were an improvement on a workplace walkout.

"This way, we don't lose our jobs," he said.

He added: "We are not more powerful if we don't come to work. There are different ways to do it. They say we don't have to buy food. I already have had my shopping day because they say some of the stores will be closed Monday."

At Boyd Gaming Corp.'s Stardust, every worker interviewed stated that hotel management had said nothing about whether they would lose their jobs if they were absent from work on Monday.

One housekeeper said union officials called her at home and told her to go to work on Monday. She said that she would "maybe" avoid buying food and other retail items, and that she would attend the organized demonstration on Fremont Street. She said she wasn't sure about her co-workers' plans.

"Some say they are coming to work and some say they are not," she said.

A second housekeeper at the Stardust also said she was under orders from the Culinary to show up for work on Monday. She's not sure she will make it downtown for the protest, and she does intend to buy food that day. But she'll also sign the petition the union will circulate calling for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

If union-represented employees do stay away from their casino jobs Monday, they will be dealt with according to absence policies that each company has negotiated with the Culinary, said several casino spokesmen.

"It would be handled as a case by case situation," said Boyd Gaming spokesman Rob Stillwell. "We're not going to assume that someone is participating in the protest if they miss work. These matters would fall under the guidelines of our human resources department."

Stillwell said workers who don't show up for work without prior notice would be held to the company policy as if it were any other day.

"We're not anticipating any major problems because of what we've set up for the workers with the union," Stillwell said.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said unexcused absences would be handled accordingly.

"They will be subject to the normal disciplinary policies of their property," Feldman said. "This could include suspension or termination."

Wynn Las Vegas President Andrew Pascal participated in Wednesday's news conference with the Culinary.

He said the message has been sent to employees they are expected to be at their shifts on Monday. However, the casino was making contingency plans in case there is a large amount of absenteeism.

Several Wynn employees interviewed Thursday said the word had been passed down through management that any workers staying away would be terminated.

"That's kind of been the word. Show up or be fired," said one Wynn housekeeping employee.

A Wynn Resorts spokeswoman did not return a phone call seeking comment.