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Rod Smith

$1.9 Million Award Will Help Las Vegas Hotels Recruit Workers

17 March 2004

U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao kicked off a National Hispanic Worker initiative Tuesday with a $1.9 million grant geared to recruit and motivate workers for Southern Nevada's gaming and hospitality industry.

The grant, part of a new $10 million Labor Department program, will go to Culinary Local 226's parent union, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, also known as HERE.

Chao and Gov. Kenny Guinn, speaking at Nevada Partners headquarters in North Las Vegas, said the new program and the grants are as important to employers as they are to immigrant workers.

New York-New York President Felix Rappaport, who serves on the board of the Culinary Training Academy that will oversee the grant, said the programs will help employers recruit workers. In addition, he said the new effort will help employers better motivate employees and improve the quality of hotel service, which he called key to the gaming industry.

HERE will partner with 24 Las Vegas gaming companies through the Culinary Training Academy and Nevada Partners, a community-based training provider, to give 2,000 immigrant workers in Las Vegas English language instruction. On-site English classes will also be run for 450 workers already working at 20 major Las Vegas hotel-casinos.

In Atlantic City, HERE will work with 13 employers and a local community college to help 45 Hispanic workers with limited English skills.

Chao said Las Vegas and the gaming industry were targeted almost coincidently because of her two-year experience with the Culinary Training Academy and Nevada Partners.

"When President Bush took office, we looked at the need of Hispanic workers to access an array of programs. President Bush feels a special bond because of his days as governor of Texas," she said.

"We looked at clusters where we could be of great service. We started a dialogue with (HERE) President (John) Wilhelm. I came here and was very impressed with the programs he had put together. And really a confluence of factors and events (led to the program and grant) we announced today," Chao said.

Guinn said the grant recognizes the success the Culinary training program has enjoyed in Nevada.

"This is not giving money to (start) a program. It's being given to support one of the most successful programs in the nation," he said.

Guinn denied politics played a role in the decision even though he is co-chairman of Bush's re-election campaign in Nevada and the president's campaign has targeted Hispanic voters.

"It's a small amount of money, but a critically important program for helping (Nevada) move forward and for setting an example for other states to follow," Guinn said. "We're already creating more jobs (for a state this size) than anywhere else, and they're top jobs in terms of livable wage," he said.

Chao told a packed room of several hundred Culinary workers that she remembers coming to the United States when she was 8 not speaking any English. She said mastering the language was key to her success as a Peace Corps volunteer, head of United Way and government service.

She said the new program is designed to support immigrants with the same skills, help workers advance professionally and assist employers in matching placement needs with prospective workers.

Guinn said the new programs will help employers find workers and help the employees qualify for new jobs and advancement.

Rappaport said that out of 250,000 Las Vegas residents who identify themselves as immigrants, 160,000 report speaking English "less than very well." He also said more than half of immigrant workers hired fail in their jobs because of language-skill shortcomings.

Rappaport said the major hotels at which he has worked consistently have hundreds of job vacancies for which they are constantly recruiting despite a substantial pool of immigrant workers, many of whom are skilled and often well-trained but who need language training to succeed.

The skills are so important that Rappaport said he is considering pushing for a program to teach managers second languages so they can better motivate subordinates.