Sunday, April 20, 2008 | 2 a.m.
When critics of Wynn Las Vegas’ controversial tip-sharing policy filed an initiative petition this year to protect dealers against having to share tips with management, they thought they were uniting against a common enemy: Steve Wynn.
Now, they find, an unlikely adversary has entered the fray.
The 60,000-strong Culinary Union, representing legions of tip-earning casino workers up and down the Strip, has sided with Wynn and a few industry groups as they seek in court to derail the efforts of the International Union of Gaming Employees, a private advocacy group, to get either the legislature or voters to change state law to prohibit employers from requiring employees to share tips with certain other employees.
The gaming employees group, which is not registered with the U.S. Labor Department as a union, plans to protest Culinary’s perceived support for Wynn’s position Monday by marching on the union’s downtown headquarters.
(The Transport Workers Union, which is now at the bargaining table with Wynn Las Vegas negotiating a contract on behalf of dealers, is not an official partner in the effort. Wynn dealers, however, are gathering signatures.)
The group argues that the Culinary has sold out its members and opened the door for management to share in the tips of waiters and cocktail waitresses, among others.
But Culinary officials say the group should take a closer look at the union’s motion to intervene in the matter. The truth, they say, is buried deep in the weeds of legalistic language.
Pilar Weiss, the Culinary’s political director, said the union agrees with the group’s central premise: that workers should keep their tips. But the initiative is so convoluted that, if passed, it would upset the Culinary’s contracts with employers citywide, making for costly legal battles over carefully negotiated, nuanced tipping policies, she said.
“They think we are taking Steve Wynn’s side,” Weiss said. “We see it as their initiative undoing decades of our hard work.”
The gaming employees group never approached the Culinary for consultation or support, she said. Had it called, much of the fight could have been avoided, she said.
The Culinary reacted to Monday’s planned protest by leafleting members at work Friday with fliers promoting its binding contracts for tip earners and blasting the group’s initiative as a “half-baked idea for (a) new law.”
According to the union’s legal motion, tip-sharing practices vary widely among the union’s 30 or so job classifications at various properties — and sometimes even among shifts. Those variations require a flexible system, it says. The initiative, however, proposes a “one-size-fits-all” model, which the union says would straitjacket employees and disrupt long-standing practices.
Al Maurice, director of the International Union of Gaming Employees and a dealer at the Mirage, said his group included a provision in the petition that exempts employees covered under collective bargaining agreements. “Nothing will change to disrupt things for the Culinary,” he said.
The union disagrees. The provision, it says, applies to contracts that authorize the employer to make tip determinations. Culinary contracts, Weiss said, allow employees to decide how tips are pooled.
A Magistrate Court judge will weigh in on Monday on whether the Culinary can enter the lawsuit.