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Jeff Simpson

Tropicana workers face more challenges

28 January 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- You have to pity the workers at the Tropicana.

Already faced with meat-ax cuts to staff and operational budgets that have destroyed morale and come close to turning the property into a dump, workers are now facing even more indignities at the hands of the Kentucky-based half-wits who run the Trop.

Recently I got a call from a Tropicana worker telling me that when Jan. 14 paychecks were handed out, folks were told not to cash them for two days.

I called up the Culinary Union, still embroiled in contract negotiations with the Trop's owners, to see if they could line me up with a few workers who could confirm the paycheck tip.

Last week I met with three Tropicana workers as well as Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor at the union's offices.

Not only did the workers confirm that they and their fellow Tropicana employees were told not to cash their paychecks for two days, but they told me there have been more than 200 cases of workers being underpaid on their paychecks in recent months.

"This is clearly not accidental, and a lot of workers are getting screwed," Taylor said, noting that the Culinary is examining its legal options. "This is a smaller property, yet the number of improper payments are far more than at much bigger hotels."

Workers said the property's payroll department blames many of the errors on the Kentucky headquarters of owner Columbia Sussex Corp., but payroll workers seem reluctant to fix the mistakes because they don't want to anger their corporate bosses.

"They tell us to Google the company's name and call them ourselves if we want to pursue it," one worker said.

Given the payroll problems, the property's slashing Culinary positions from about 1,100 to 700 and the Tropicana's insulting contract offer to the union, which calls for the workers to abandon their prized — and hard-won — health care benefits and guaranteed 40-hour workweek, Taylor's irritation with Tropicana owners is understandable.

When I noted that the Tropicana owners were the worst kind of executives — incompetent and arrogant, Taylor agreed.

"They're like George W. Bush," he said. "And the Tropicana is like Iraq."

That's tough criticism from Taylor, but he's got some anger to spare for Nevada gaming regulators.

Despite Columbia Sussex's recently being stripped of the Tropicana Atlantic City's gaming license, and the company's earlier decision to abandon Tropicana's former sister property in Missouri because Show Me State regulators made it clear Columbia Sussex wouldn't get licensed, Nevada regulators have not taken action against the company. New Jersey regulators said Columbia Sussex executives defied the regulatory process and lacked good character, honesty and integrity.

About a month ago the union sent the state Gaming Control Board a report detailing what Taylor said was a range of serious ethical lapses by Columbia Sussex that clearly justify a regulatory response, but the board has yet to respond, he said.

"When a company loses its license for serious reasons and Nevada thinks it's OK, something's wrong," he said.

"But they're monitoring it," the Culinary official said several times about Nevada regulators, sarcasm dripping from every word.

I understand Taylor's frustration, and agree with him.

Nevada regulators should protect the image of the state and the industry and yank the gaming license of the dishonest and poorly run company.