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April 22, 2019

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MDA Telethon dragged into labor dispute at LV casino

The ongoing feud between the Santa Fe hotel-casino and the Culinary Union has now reached out to encompass the local Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day Telethon.

The MDA informed the Santa Fe recently that it was pulling the local telethon from the Santa Fe and rescheduling it for the Boulevard mall. Each side is accusing the other of using the MDA as a pawn in the 2-year-old, often bitter negotiations between the union and Santa Fe.

Santa Fe executives said the MDA told them it was acting under pressure from the Firefighters Union and the Culinary Union.

"Union leadership think it's OK to use this event as part of a political agenda, and that's unfortunate," Andrew Klebanow, vice president and general manager of the Santa Fe, said. "It's disappointing the unions chose to scuttle this event.

"All it's about is raising money and finding a cure. It's not about getting customers to a casino, or getting publicity."

An enraged Jim Arnold, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary local, denies putting any pressure on the MDA or the firefighters and called the Santa Fe's claims "a smoke screen to try to make the Culinary Union look bad."

"That's got to be one of the lowest moves they've ever done," Arnold said. "We're just as concerned about this fundraiser as anyone is, and we wouldn't do anything to hurt it.

"We have never been as insulted as we are right now about this."

Negotiations between the union and the Santa Fe for a union contract began in January 1998, after the union won a National Labor Relations Board-supervised election. The union claims Santa Fe has been negotiating with it in bad faith, and is intentionally delaying the completion of a contract; the Santa Fe responds that there are simply too many issues to be discussed, making it impossible to negotiate a contract quickly.

The decision to move the MDA telethon apparently came at the behest of the Firefighters Union.

Each year local firefighters hold their "Fill the Boot" campaign, designed to collect funds for the MDA. Started 38 years ago, the campaign puts firefighters on street corners around Clark County to collect donations. Last year the campaign raised $308,000, and has raised $2.8 million since its inception.

This year's campaign will begin Tuesday and continue through Sept. 4. The firefighters will present the proceeds of their campaign to the MDA at the local telethon, scheduled for Sept. 5-6.

But the Firefighters Union began expressing concerns that the telethon was scheduled to be held in Santa Fe, said Danny Thompson, executive secretary and treasurer for the Nevada State AFL-CIO. Thompson said the firefighters called him to ask what the status of union negotiations were at the Santa Fe, and he said he told them that a contract had not been signed and he believed the hotel-casino was engaging in bad-faith negotiations.

"They did not want to go into that property, knowing what they know about it," Thompson said. "They called me, and I know for a fact that the Culinary has never spoken to the firefighters about this issue.

"I believe the firemen talked to the MDA about their concern, and agreed that we'd find a solution to that concern."

When asked about the involvement of the Firefighters Union, Arnold said, "if the firefighters choose to do something because they feel the workers (at the Santa Fe) are being mistreated, I appreciate that, but I did not put pressure on anyone to do this."

But Klebanow tells a different story.

The Santa Fe has long-standing ties with the telethon as well. Until 1995 Jerry Lewis held the national telethon at the Sahara hotel-casino, then owned by Paul Lowden. In 1995 the Sahara was sold to Bill Bennett, and Lowden's holding company became Santa Fe Gaming. The next year the MDA began holding the national telethon in Los Angeles.

On Aug. 11 Klebanow said Santa Fe executives began hearing from employees that the Culinary Union was attempting to get the local telethon pulled from the Santa Fe. Klebanow said he didn't take the rumors seriously until the MDA informed the hotel-casino that the event was moving to the Boulevard Mall.

"Since that time, employees have been disappointed, and pretty upset that the Culinary Union would resort to this kind of tactic," Klebanow said.

On Aug. 19 a letter was faxed to the media, signed by 72 people who referred to themselves as "Very Concerned Santa Fe Employees." The signees requested anonymity "for fear of retaliation from the union people." The letter was printed in the weekly newspaper Gaming Today on Aug. 24.

"What, does the Firemen's Union think they are the only ones who can raise money and do stuff for MDA?" the letter states. "Maybe they should step back and take a good look at their actions and morals and put their petty political hang-ups aside.

"In our opinion we think that this is another ignorant tactic done by the Culinary Union to try to hurt the Santa Fe and its employees!"

Thompson challenged the authenticity of the letter, saying "that letter sounds awful suspicious to me."

Klebanow said the letter was a reflection of the employees' distress over losing the telethon.

MDA district director Laura Rolfe acknowledged that the main telethon would be held at the mall, but added that some fundraising events and interviews would be held at Santa Fe. She said she had no personal knowledge of the MDA being pressured by unions to pull the event from the hotel-casino, but declined to comment further.

"You'd have to ask the Santa Fe," she said.