Thursday, Oct. 11, 2007 | 6:46 a.m.
For decades, dice and card dealers resisted unions, preferring to watch out for themselves, pocket their own tips and cut their own deals for choice shifts.
But a new culture among dealers is emerging. It surfaced this year at Wynn Las Vegas, where dealers organized in anger over how their tips were being shared with supervisors.
And it's gaining momentum at, of all places, Caesars Palace, a preeminent icon of old Vegas.
Caesars dealers are quietly conducting an organizing drive out of the same concern that agitated dealers down the street: that management might order them to share their tips with first-line supervisors.
The high-profile organizing effort at Wynn led to several complaints to the National Labor Relations Board that management was trying to stifle the effort at the workplace.
The Caesars dealers' organizing effort is being conducted mostly out of sight, on the Internet.
Instead of posting fliers in break rooms and using on-site organizers to gather signatures, the Web campaign is drawing supporters anonymously by allowing dealers during their off hours to fill out online forms of support for the Transport Workers Union at caesarspalacedealers.com.
Using the Internet takes heat off union organizers and may even make it more difficult for management to argue that employees were coerced into joining a union. Dealers hope to gather enough signatures to trigger a secret-ballot election.
Emboldened by the union vote at Wynn, dealers are courting the Transport Workers Union, which was elected by the Wynn dealers.
"The day Steve Wynn seized control of the dealers' tips, every dealer at Caesars Palace was crying foul and were announcing that we at Caesars Palace needed a union," said the Web site's organizer, a dealer known only as "Rumpelstiltskin" - the name of the angry dwarf who spins straw into gold in the Grimm brothers' fairy tale.
The Web site, which includes several chat rooms, is also giving dealers a chance to air gripes that have little to do with tip-pooling.
For example, some dealers aren't happy about paying higher insurance premiums in recent years, especially because maids, cooks and other Culinary Union-represented workers pay no health care premiums as a result of hard-won contracts. Some also fear potential changes after the resort's parent company, Harrah's Entertainment, is taken private in a deal expected to close in the next few months.
With a union, Rumpelstiltskin said, comes some measure of respect, which he claims has been lacking in the profession for decades.
"We are tired of seeing other union workers in tip-earning positions being paid as much as $17 per hour base wages, plus tips, while the top pay for a dealer is $7.60 per hour, even after 30 years of service," said the organizer, who didn't want to be identified for fear of reprisals.
"Management tells us, 'We had a record profit last quarter. Keep up the good work,' and then we get (no added rewards) for our work and actually have things taken away. They occasionally have slapped us in the face with raises ranging from 4 cents to 10 cents an hour while our CEO is pocketing tens of millions."
Caesars Palace representatives declined to comment on the organizing effort.
At Wynn Las Vegas, management dismissed information and rants being posted by dealers on multiple Web sites as damaging propaganda that unfairly influenced the landslide vote in favor of the Transport Workers Union.
"The Web site showed us there was real interest by the dealers to organize. Using the Internet ... is the wave of the future," the organizer said.