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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

16 April 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Transport Workers Union, which primarily represents workers in the airline and railroad industries, has petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for a secret-ballot election to represent Wynn Las Vegas dealers.

The move indicates the level of anger Wynn dealers have sustained eight months into management's decision to include frontline supervisors in the dealers' tip pool. Enough dealers - at least 30 percent - signed the petition, triggering the election process.

Although management says most dealers have made peace with the new tip-sharing program, some dealers say at least 60 percent of the casino's dealers support a union.

That strategy is fraught with challenges, but it appears to be a last option for dealers, whose lawsuit against Wynn Resorts over the tip pool was dismissed by a District Court judge. And on Friday, a bill that would have allowed dealers to keep supervisors' paws off their tips died in an Assembly committee.

Las Vegas casinos have opened their doors to the Culinary Union to organize housekeepers and servers but have beaten back efforts to organize dealers, the largest group of unorganized casino workers.

The Transport Workers Union got its foot inside several casinos a few years ago but could not negotiate good contracts and was ultimately given the boot by dealers. Dealers say keeping the heat on the tip debate at Wynn, rather than raising other issues or organizing other casinos, will lead to the union's success this time: Even if the tip policy is not negotiable, a union could smooth tensions by negotiating wage and benefit concessions.

Wynn Las Vegas officials are walking softly - for now.

"Dealers have the right to choose their own destiny," spokeswoman Denise Randazzo said.

Whether dealers can keep up the fight in coming weeks while the labor board holds hearings with both parties, before scheduling an election, remains to be seen.

• • •

Dealer unrest at Wynn Las Vegas has been fanned by the failure of the bill to roll back Wynn's tip policy. The bill was the dealers' best shot at protecting their tips from frontline supervisors because it would have rewritten state law.

The bill was worded in such a way that it raised the hackles of the casino industry and the Internal Revenue Service because it would have made the long-standing practice of mandatory tip pooling illegal. Some supporters say a better-written bill would have allowed management to enforce tip pooling among co-workers but given workers, and not management, the power to include supervisors in the tip pool.

Some dealers who lobbied for the bill said allowing them to control tips wouldn't have threatened the much-favored practice of sharing tips among themselves but, rather, would simply have put that decision in their hands.

One dealer let fly Friday with an e-mail to members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, calling the death of the measure "absolutely infuriating."

"Believe me," wrote Daniel Baldonado, one of the dealers who sued Wynn, "every tip earner will be voting for your opponents in the next election."

• • •

Although local studies have attempted to tackle the issue of affordable housing, the Culinary Union has put up for discussion during contract negotiations with major Strip casinos the creation of a casino-supported housing trust fund.

What sounds like a pot of money for needy casino workers would actually be a collection of cash to examine the problem and what kinds of help would work best.

The Culinary funded a previous study on home ownership that didn't delve into why people can't afford a home, Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said.

"This is not a simple question," he said. "We think there has to be a thorough study, not a study that leads to nowhere, which, frankly, a lot of government studies have done."