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Gaming Guru

Michael J. Mishak

Mandalay Bay guards reject union

18 June 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- With a good dose of election drama — including a ballot box being taken into a bathroom — a union seeking to organize Las Vegas security guards has lost its flagship campaign at Mandalay Bay.

By a 123-110 vote, guards Friday rejected the International Union of Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America.

The union's lead organizer, Steve Maritas, said he will file objections with the federal labor board alleging the ballot box was not properly sealed. He also complained that when the lone labor board agent conducting the election needed a bathroom break, he suspended voting for five minutes and took the ballot box and blank ballots with him to the bathroom.

"We were robbed, man," Maritas said.

The union says it is not accusing MGM Mirage, owner of Mandalay Bay, nor the National Labor Relations Board of tampering with the results. Maritas is seeking a rerun of the election though, claiming the atmosphere did not meet the "free and fair" standards established by the board.

A labor board official declined comment because the union has not filed charges.

MGM Mirage called the election fair and square.

"We are gratified that our employees agree with us that direct communication is the best way to foster our relationship," Mandalay Bay President Bill Hornbuckle said in a statement. "We appreciate the vote of confidence and will work hard to build and maintain a spirit of trust and responsiveness with our employees."

The loss represents a significant setback for the union, which hoped to send a message to casinos up and down the Strip by organizing the property with the largest security force. Its first attempt, at the Luxor, stalled in April because the union, unsure it had enough support, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the federal labor board, alleging management had threatened to withhold scheduled pay raises and other benefits if workers voted for the union.

The claims were in part a ploy to delay the election, Maritas admits.

Maritas was more confident he had the support of guards at Mandalay Bay.

"When you have been doing this as long as I have, you know your numbers," said Maritas, an organizer with 30 years in the labor movement. "We were solid."

Or so he thought.

After the voting, Maritas complained that the ballot box hadn't been properly sealed, allowing deposited ballots to fall out. More egregious, he said, was that the labor board agent in charge of administering the election took the ballot box and blank ballots with him into the bathroom. The agent should have sealed the box and secured it in a locked room, Maritas said.

"This was not run properly," he said. "Let's have a new election, seal the box properly, and I'll accept the results."

Maritas' organizing effort has been among the stranger ones on the Strip.

Last month he designed a Web page that featured a photo of Osama bin Laden next to Hornbuckle. He also highlighted MGM Mirage's partnership with Dubai World, the Persian Gulf holding company — and linked it to the war in Iraq, complete with a counter of American war dead. At the request of guards, he apologized and took the page down.

Then he threatened to bring homeless people and prostitutes to the picket line to draw attention to what he called unfair labor practices at Mandalay Bay. He never followed through. "That was just a ploy," Maritas said Monday. "That was meant to get them all riled up."

He also sought solidarity with other unions, particularly the buildings trades, creating a Web site devoted to worker safety at CityCenter and other Strip construction sites — and including, inexplicably, a video of the 9/11 attacks.

The loss has put a considerable snag in Maritas' plans to organize Las Vegas.

"Did they hurt the momentum? No question," Maritas said. "If we took this one down, this town would have fallen like dominoes."

Before the election, MGM Mirage awarded raises to guards at New York-New York, Excalibur and Treasure Island. A company spokesman said the action was the result of salary surveys "performed occasionally by our HR departments to help properties remain competitive and retain the best possible employees." Last week the union filed for an election at the Mirage. A date has not been set.