Published Monday, April 21, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Updated Monday, April 21, 2008 | 12:40 p.m.
Security guards are trying to organize a union on the Strip, and the move has brought a strong response from casino giant MGM Mirage.
The guards are seeking representation by the International Union of Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America. They complain of inadequate training and unsafe staffing levels, low pay and other ills.
The casinos are fighting back, claiming that guards will get a better deal if they don’t organize. That argument worked 13 years ago, the last time guards mounted a serious organizing effort.
The first test this time will be at the Luxor, where a representation election is scheduled for Friday. Elections at other properties will follow, said Steve Maritas, the union’s director of organizing.
The national union is targeting MGM Mirage, which has a five-year bargaining agreement with the union at the company’s MGM Grand in Detroit. The company agreed not to campaign against the union in Detroit but is taking a tougher stand in Las Vegas.
Management is holding one-on-one meetings with guards at the Luxor. The company is trying to prevent a domino effect at other casinos by conducting mandatory meetings at Mandalay Bay, whose 300 officers compose the company’s single largest security force, Maritas said. (The union filed an election petition for Mandalay Bay guards with the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday.)
Under U.S. labor law, an employer has the right to hold so-called captive audiences during an organizing drive, provided that employees are paid for their time. Employers are precluded from making promises or leveling threats though, and the union says the Luxor is playing dirty. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB on Friday, alleging that casino management has threatened to withhold previously scheduled pay raises and other benefits if workers vote for the union.
The complaint also alleges that management offered benefits and promotions to guards who vote against the union and is now soliciting and granting grievances from officers.
An MGM Mirage spokesman said the company, though preferring that guards remain nonunion, respects the right of employees to seek union representation and has conducted itself within the limits of federal labor law.
“Those same laws also allow the company to express its viewpoint and, if necessary, aggressively promote management’s belief that our best relationship with our employees is always face-to-face, without a third party intermediary,” spokesman Gordon Absher said.
The labor board will investigate the union’s claims and set a formal hearing if it finds the charge has merit.
Guards say changes at the properties have been dramatic.
Before the organizing drive, officers say, hiring and overtime freezes left properties understaffed and on-duty guards vulnerable. Cuts were so deep, they say, that a lone guard was sometimes posted on the Luxor casino floor.
Some guards, who have little more than a 6-inch wooden “power stick” with which to fend off attacks and subdue troublemakers, say they felt unsafe. (Guards lost their guns in 2005 because of insurance liability concerns, the union says.) Backup often came from inexperienced, part-time guards.
Since the election filing, however, MGM Mirage has reinstated overtime and boosted staffing levels, and is now offering officer-training classes, Maritas said. Battered patrol vehicles were replaced last week, and security booths are being cleaned, he said.
Indeed, security guards say corporate executives are paying unprecedented attention. Luxor management held a focus group meeting last month to gauge the concerns of officers.
The meeting prompted memo from Luxor President Felix Rappaport, who praised the officers for their dedication and apologized for overlooking their concerns.
Rappaport, however, said that most of the issues were not of a kind that a union can negotiate.
He urged guards to give the company another chance.
Maritas, a feisty, chain-smoking organizer who grew up in the South Bronx, reveled in the response. On Tuesday he was holding court with about two-dozen guards at the Laughing Jackalope Bar & Grill, a no-frills joint attached to a low-rise motel across from Mandalay Bay, while an Elvis impersonator and a few ironworkers partook of the pizza he ordered for the security crew.
“These guys are coming off their thrones because we are now a threat to their empire,” Maritas said.
Guards interviewed by the Sun said they were shaken by MGM Mirage’s announcement last week that it was cutting 400 manager positions companywide. (Officers were granted anonymity so they could speak freely. A confidentiality agreement bars guards from speaking about security matters publicly.)
Job protection was at the top of their wish list. Guards also hope to win seniority rights, a better internal promotion policy, a grievance and arbitration process and a company pension plan. They also want wage uniformity across properties.
“Everything else is gravy,” Maritas said.
(Editor's note: This story has been corrected. Gordon Absher's name was incorrectly spelled in an earlier version.)