Friday, Sept. 29, 2000 | 11:12 a.m.
Culinary Union officials say they weren't surprised by the Nevada Gaming Commission's unanimous rejection of a proposed regulation that would have restricted employee layoffs when casinos are sold.
"We didn't expect they would go for it," said Richard McCracken, attorney for the Culinary, after Thursday's vote. "But we felt it was worth taking a shot to provoke some conscience."
McCracken wouldn't say what strategy is ahead for the union, but it's clear what's ahead for some of the members of Local 226 -- they'll be headed for the unemployment line.
The commission also unanimously approved Station Casino Inc.'s license to operate the Santa Fe hotel-casino in northwest Las Vegas. That vote and the commission's rejection of the Culinary's emergency petition on employee layoffs will enable Station to go forward with its plan to replace the Santa Fe's 900-person work force with Station employees. About 300 already have left the Santa Fe.
That means that when the deal closes on Monday, the 600 remaining Santa Fe workers will be jobless.
About 400 of those 600 have applied with Station and of those, about 150 have been offered jobs or are awaiting drug test results as a prelude to a job offer.
Station officials said 578 employees have been hired as Santa Fe Station employees. They also noted that there are new openings at other Station properties since many have transferred to the Santa Fe.
Several current Santa Fe workers were at Thursday's session, pleading with commissioners to consider the human toll the $205 million acquisition would have on them.
Meanwhile, an equally large contingent of employees from company's other Station-branded properties -- Palace, Boulder, Texas and Sunset stations -- showed their corporate loyalty, telling the commission the birth of "Santa Fe Station" would mean opportunities for staff advancements and promotions for them.
Together, the Santa Fe and Station had enough employees present for authorities to limit the number of people who could squeeze into the standing-room-only meeting. In the end, it was the Station officials who had the more convincing arguments, partially because they plan a bigger Santa Fe, with an expansion planned to begin Monday.
When the two-phase expansion is completed, the property will have 1,200 employees, Station executives said. Included in the first phase of the project will be $40 million in refurbishments, including the addition of a 1,600-space parking garage.
The company also will add a new buffet and a 24-hour cafe. About 400 new slot machines will go in, bringing the total to 2,000.
The second phase of the expansion will see the addition of a 12-screen movie theater, now a staple at the company's Station properties. During the renovation, the property's bowling center and ice arena will remain open.
But all of the amenities being added were of little consolation to the Santa Fe employees who addressed the commission with McCracken and D. Taylor, the Culinary's staff director.
Kasey Hatch, a Santa Fe employee who said she stuck with the property despite being given wages below what other neighborhood casinos offered, said she stayed because she liked the people and the customers she worked with. Hatch, who said she was given time off to tend to a sick child, said it was unfair of Station to fire her without even knowing her capabilities.
"They don't know us, they don't know what we're like," said Hatch, fighting back tears. "I am not a substandard person and neither are my co-workers."
Gaming commissioners blamed officials with Santa Fe Gaming Corp., the seller of the property, for not keeping employees informed about the transition. When the commission voted against the Culinary request, commissioners said they chose not to micromanage the industry with regulations that could be interpreted as legislative or judicial functions.
Commission Chairman Brian Sandoval said the proposal would have had a chilling effect on investment in casino companies because of the restriction it would have had on companies absorbing others.
McCracken said the commission makes legislative and judicial decisions all the time in the course of its regulatory work. He also said he welcomed the chilling effect on companies because he felt it was important to protect casino workers.
He said the Santa Fe acquisition was the first instance he was aware of in which an entire property's staff was fired and required to reapply for jobs under the new management. He called Station's action a "malicious precedent."
McCracken did not say what the union would do next. He said he expects employees at the Fiesta hotel-casino in North Las Vegas, also being acquired by Station, would be fired and required to re-apply like the Santa Fe employees.
"This commission regulates the owners and the executives, rules involving customers, even the devices in the casinos," McCracken said. "They're always talking about what an important asset the workers are, yet the workers are the only ones that aren't addressed in regulations."
In the license transfer vote, which also was unanimous, commissioners warned Station executives that they were closely watching regulatory developments in Missouri.
Company officials said Thursday they have not decided whether they will participate in an Oct. 10 regulatory hearing before Missouri regulators. Station has disobeyed subpoenas issued by regulators who want to investigate the company's dealings with its former attorney, Michael Lazaroff.
The company said it wasn't allowed due process under Missouri's procedure.