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Aladdin, Palms Hit With Labor Complaints

5 September 2003

From Our Partners at the Las Vegas Sun

by Liz Benston

LAS VEGAS -- The National Labor Relations Board has filed complaints against the Palms and Aladdin resorts, alleging the nonunion Las Vegas properties are illegally attempting to discourage workers from unionizing.

The complaint against the Palms contains more than 20 separate allegations, while the Aladdin complaint contains more than 70 counts. Both complaints were filed Aug. 29 and were prompted by unfair labor practice charges filed by Culinary Union Local 226 in June and July.

The resorts employ more than 1,000 workers each who could potentially be covered by Culinary Union contracts.

Both complaints allege that casino managers threatened employees with reprisals, spied on workers and interrogated workers about union organizing activities, among other things.

The Palms complaint alleges illegal anti-union activities were carried out by Palms owner George Maloof and General Manager Jim Hughes along with seven other managers overseeing porters, housekeepers, stewards and cooks.

Culinary Union Staff Director Kevin Kline said the complaint is evidence of the company's recent efforts to root out union supporters, a violation of federal labor law.

"It's a widespread campaign to keep the union from workers at the Palms. (Maloof) has taken a hands-on approach to this," he said.

Maloof referred calls to Hughes, who said the complaints are "without merit."

"This is all part of the union's plan to force us into a card check," Hughes said. "We're not going to do that. We're going to defend our employees' right to a government-supervised election."

"We know that line and we're not buying it -- that just means they don't want a union," Kline replied. "We're not going to let the Palms turn the clock backwards, where workers have to wait years and years for representation. We hope they'll rethink their position on the card check."

The Aladdin complaint names 23 managers overseeing beverage services, stewards, cooks, porters and housekeepers as well as the property's human resources director. The Aladdin complaint includes claims of employee terminations and threats over wearing pro-union buttons.

"This is a widespread, orchestrated attack by the Aladdin management," Kline said. "This is the largest single complaint I've ever seen."

Executives with the Aladdin and representatives of the company that intends to buy the property out of bankruptcy could not be reached for comment today on the NLRB complaint.

The company, however, issued a statement Thursday reiterating its opposition to the Culinary's tactics. "The Culinary Union has a long track record of utilizing NLRB complaints as a way to publicly pressure companies into making decisions that do not represent the best interest and desires of the employees," the Aladdin's statement said.

"At the Aladdin, we have a proud history of respecting and protecting our employees' rights to job security, fair wages and secure benefits. The union is currently trying to pressure the Aladdin to give up its employees' legal right to a secret ballot government-sponsored election by insisting that they are recognized through a 'card count.' We believe that a card count, rather than a secret ballot, deprives Aladdin employees their right to express their own opinion. We will continue to defend these rights," the statement said.

Culinary organizers at the Aladdin went public in May, with union officials claiming they had collected enough signatures to authorize representation by the local within a week of their campaign.

By contrast, Palms union sympathizers have not yet identified themselves during their effort to sign up workers.

OpBiz LLC, a company headed by Planet Hollywood International Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Earl, is in the process of acquiring the Aladdin out of bankruptcy. Last week, a reorganization plan was approved by Judge Robert C. Jones.

Earl, who plans to turn the Aladdin into a motion picture-themed Planet Hollywood hotel-casino, has said repeatedly that his company would hire all current Aladdin employees. But he, too, has said he would prefer a secret ballot to a card count for representation.

The Palms complaint is set for an NLRB administrative trial Dec. 16, while the Aladdin complaints will be heard Dec. 2.

Companies can either recognize or ignore a union card count, in which union supporters gather signatures on cards from a majority of workers in a bargaining unit.

Resorts opposed to card counts have argued NLRB-supervised elections are a fairer method of determining union support than gathering signatures, a public process that they claim intimidates workers. In particular, the massive Venetian resort is well known for resisting Culinary card-count efforts and remains nonunion.

But the Culinary Union -- which has successfully organized several Strip casinos through card checks -- says elections are cumbersome because companies may contest election results.

The complaint against the Palms follows a less-extensive NLRB complaint against the resort last year that is still awaiting a decision from an administrative law judge.

Kline said the union expects to file more labor practice charges against the Aladdin next week because of more incidents that have arisen since the union's last complaint against the resort.

Labor charges that lead to NLRB complaints against resorts are fairly common. They don't necessarily translate into union contracts, though they may put pressure on nonunion employers and muster some public sentiment for a union, gaming law attorney and Whittier Law School professor I. Nelson Rose said.

A ruling against a company can prompt specific rules about how employees can organize, Rose said.

An NLRB judge won't grant unions free rein at a company, however, he said.

"The (NLRB) acts like a referee," he said. You can't interfere with the business ... they have to protect the rights of the business owner, too."

The Greenspun family, owner of the Las Vegas Sun, is a minority investor in the Palms.

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