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May 24, 2015

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Protest downtown draws thousands of union workers

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Yasmina Chavez

Culinary Workers Union Local 226 members make their voices heard outside the downtown casinos on Saturday.

Union Protest on Fremont Street

Culinary Workers Union Local 226 members make their voices heard outside the downtown casinos on Saturday. Launch slideshow »

Downtown protest

KSNV reports about Culinary Union workers protesting on Fremont Street. Oct. 13.

Beverly Hoffrichter’s voice is hoarse.

For eight hours Hoffrichter, a cocktail waitress at the D, was picketing outside the property with her fellow Culinary Union workers as part of a massive protest outside all nine downtown casinos Saturday. Hundreds came and went in shifts during the protest, but not Hoffrichter. She stayed.

Her scratchy voice was the result of hours chanting and shouting — a badge of honor in the larger fight for union workers to make their voices heard. The 3,500 Culinary Union members with jobs downtown were picketing to maintain health and retirement benefits in their contracts.

“We’re hoping to get our 15 cents,” Hoffrichter said referring to the increase sought for the workers’ health and pension funds.

The negotiations have been going on since the contracts expired in June. Culinary Union Local 226 president Geoconda Arguello-Kline said the union members all voted to hold the protest on Saturday, even though it happened to fall on “Rediscover Downtown" day, an event designed to highlight the attractions in downtown Las Vegas.

“Today is a busy day, and we want downtown to grow,” Arguello-Kline said. “But it’s the workers who make it grow.”

Sporting matching red shirts, about 100 union members were stationed outside each casino — El Cortez, 4 Queens, the D, Golden Nugget, Fremont, Golden Gate, Binions, Las Vegas Club and Main Street Station. Each group — waitresses, bartenders and other hotel workers — marched in an oval waving signs with slogans such as “No justice, no peace!” while chanting phrases such as “No contract, no peace!” Union spokeswoman Bethany Khan estimated that there had been a few thousand protestors throughout the day.

Workers from the Strip also showed up to offer their support. Michael Tirabossi, a room service waiter at Treasure Island, spent his off day protesting.

“I came to support my brothers and sisters,” Tirabossi said. “There’s a strength in numbers.”

The protests elicited several curious looks from tourists. Hoffrichter said a couple of people avoided the casinos because they supported the union. Shalina Tilman, who works at the Golden Nugget, experienced the opposite reaction from tourists. She said many complained about the noise and space the protestors took up on the walkway.

Arguello-Kline said it could have been avoided if the casinos signed the contract.

“We have a picket line,” Arguello-Kline said. “People know this is a labor dispute. If (casinos) want to have peace, they have to give workers health and pension benefits.”

Until then, workers like Hoffrichter are prepared to lose their voice to make it heard.

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