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August 30, 2015

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Union supporters arrested at protest of Station Casinos

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Leila Navidi

The crowd prepares to march from Culinary Union Local 226 headquarters to Palace Station as a statement against Station Casinos’ treatment of Latino workers on Thursday, March 24, 2011.

Culinary Union March

A woman is taken into custody by Metro Police after a nonviolent sit-in on Teddy Drive outside of Palace Station following a march by Culinary Union Local 226 members from their headquarters to Palace Station as a statement against Station Casinos' treatment of Latino workers on Thursday, March 24, 2011. Launch slideshow »

On a side street near Palace Station, 100 Culinary Union supporters were arrested Thursday night for blocking a roadway to show their support for the organization’s attempt to unionize workers at Station Casinos.

An organized team of Metro Police officers were ready with zip ties and three police buses to arrest supporters who sat in the middle of Teddy Drive. The protesters were arrested on counts of pedestrians blocking a roadway — a misdemeanor — issued citations and released shortly thereafter.

Close to 1,000 Culinary Union Local 226 members and supporters marched two miles from the union headquarters on Commerce Street to Palace Station to protest what they claim is Station Casinos’ mistreatment of Latino workers.

The demonstration was the largest to date in the campaign to unionize workers at the company, union representatives said.

For nearly three hours, Station Casino workers and Culinary Union members marched with signs, chanting “Station hates Latinos” and “Union bustings got to go.” Some protesters wore shirts with the faces of former Station Casino workers who they say were fired for showing their support for the union.

The Culinary Union has been attempting to unionize 13,000 workers at Station Casinos’ 18 properties in the Las Vegas Valley for almost 15 years. Union representatives said the organization’s public campaign to organize workers at the properties began in February 2010.

Trucks carrying the company’s “We Love Locals” ads circled the Culinary Union headquarters before the march and banners with the slogan greeted protesters when they reached Palace Station.

“These signs are up because it means we are winning and Station is worried,” D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer for Culinary Local 226, told the crowd.

Among those who protested Thursday was Olvidio Aquino, a former cook at Palace Station who worked at the property for 22 years. He said he was fired shortly after he started wearing his union button to work but was told it was because he made a mistake in a recipe.

“They fired me after I put my union button on,” Aquino said. “I never had a problem, but as soon as I put my button on and started fighting for my rights, I was fired.”

Aquino said he was marching Thursday for all of his former coworkers who still work at Station Casino properties. He now works as an organizer for the Culinary Union.

Another former Station Casinos worker demonstrating on Thursday was Omar Mendoza, who worked at the Feast Buffet at Sunset Station as a server for 14 years. He also said he believes he was fired for showing his support for the union.

After 14 years of no discipline, Mendoza said, he was told he was being terminated for leaving a tray on a table.

“It’s torn my life apart,” said Mendoza, who now also works as an organizer for the union. “You want to stand up for yourself, but they just stomp on you and crush you.”

Station Casinos is being investigated by U.S. National Labor Relations Board because of unfair labor practice complaints filed by the Culinary Union. The union says more than 80 percent of the charges against the company involve Latino workers.

Station Casinos spokeswoman Lori Nelson called Thursday’s protest another media stunt by the union, but said no disciplinary action would be taken against employees who chose to march.

The Culinary Union held a similar demonstration last month in which 22 supporters were arrested for blocking an entrance near Palace Station.

“We recognize our team members’ rights to be represented by a union if that’s what they choose, but the union is disingenuous and blatantly lies about what’s going on behind the scenes,” Nelson said. “We are not an anti-union company. We are a pro-employee company, and we’ve always prided ourselves on being fair to our employees.”

Maria Olivas, a server at the buffet at Boulder Station, chose to participate in the march to show her support for fellow Latino workers. She was wearing her union button Thursday but said she has been told by management at Boulder Station not to wear it at work.

“I think the union can give us protection.” Olivas said. “I want better benefits and to have insurance and retirement and a raise.”

Olivas said when her children were sick a few weeks ago, she couldn’t take them to the doctor because she doesn’t have health insurance as a part-time employee at Station Casinos. She hopes the union can fix that.

Despite her complaints, Olivas said, she has never considered going to work for another company.

“I want to stay there because I want all the workers to have equal rights. There are people who have been there longer than I have and they don’t have rights,” Olivas said. “Plus, I love my job.”

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