Monday, May 19, 2008 | 2 a.m.
A campaign to organize MGM Mirage security guards has turned ugly, with the union’s lead organizer comparing casino executives to terrorists and threatening to bring homeless people and prostitutes to the picket line to make things unpleasant for the company’s customers.
The hardball tactics come as no surprise to anyone who knows the organizer, Steve Maritas. He was convicted in San Diego of stalking his former girlfriend, who he says tricked him into violating a court order to keep his distance. And he says he learned a lot about the union business from his father, a former president of a 30,000-member carpenters district council in New York City who was indicted on racketeering charges.
Maritas’ efforts to organize guards has evoked a bit of a grin among MGM Mirage executives because they think his hard-charging tactics are so over-the-top for Las Vegas that he’ll discredit himself among the very guards he is trying to enlist.
MGM Mirage is telling employees at mandatory meetings that the best relationship between labor and management is a direct one that doesn’t involve a third-party union, and is calling Maritas’ tactics “strikingly offensive.”
Maritas says his tactics, on behalf of the International Union of Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America, are appropriate and that management “only understands one thing: disrupting their business.”
He acknowledges that his self-described street tactics backfired in Las Vegas when he put a picture of Osama bin Laden next to a picture of Mandalay Bay President Bill Hornbuckle on the union’s Web site. “They’re both terrorists,” he told the Sun. Maritas also highlighted MGM Mirage’s partnership with Dubai World, the Persian Gulf holding company — and linked it to the war in Iraq, complete with a counter of American war dead. “It was no disrespect,” he said.
“The whole point is that Americans are dying in Iraq for our freedom and (MGM Mirage) won’t let our guys have their freedom to join a union.”
Security guards, some of whom served in the military, were outraged and told Maritas to take the pictures down and apologize, which he did.
“Maybe it was a low move,” Maritas said. “But that’s the way (labor) war is ... I’m from the street. If I have to get down and dirty, I’ll do it.”
He contended that the guards’ initial disgust triggered solidarity among the bargaining unit and that employees have begun taking ownership of the organizing effort.
Maritas says his tactics are born out of frustration. Although he’s been collecting union cards at casinos up and down the Strip, his flagship campaign against MGM Mirage has stalled.
Days before a union election at the Luxor last month, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging management had threatened to withhold scheduled pay raises and other benefits if workers vote for the union. The election at the property is on hold while the federal labor board investigates the charge.
Then, when the union filed for an election at Mandalay Bay, MGM Mirage challenged the size of the bargaining unit, seeking to exclude a quarter of the union’s 300 targeted security officers. The labor board has yet to make a decision or set an election date.
“Getting the cards is the easy part. But you file for an election and look at what happens,” Maritas said. “You can’t beat them at their own game. You can’t take them on head to head. The only way you can take them on is in the street.”
The union has dubbed security guards at Mandalay Bay the “300 Spartans” (the sacrificial army in Greek history) and plans a massive protest outside the property and other MGM Mirage casinos Memorial Day weekend — complete with a busload of homeless people, “the smellier the better,” Maritas said. “Ten dollars a head. I’ve done it on many occasions.” He said he may deliver prostitutes to the scene, too.
Maritas’ efforts to hold organizing elections goes against the grain of unions such as the Service Employees International Union and Unite Here, which work outside the federal election system. Instead, they make certain concessions to management in exchange for its neutrality so they can organize through less contentious card checks.
And labor experts say the security guards union in Las Vegas, by paying people to picket, risk sending a message of weak support to MGM Mirage and the public.
None of this concerns Maritas, though.
“They threw me in the corner. Now I got 300 guys I have to protect,” he said. “We’re strong. We’re going after them. We’re going to do whatever it takes.”
He said he learned those tactics in part from his father, Theodore Maritas, who headed the New York District Council of Carpenters.
Theodore, along with a cadre of mobsters, was indicted in 1981 on racketeering charges. He reportedly disobeyed mob orders and refused to plead guilty. The trial ended in a hung jury, but before Theodore could be retried, he disappeared.
“He was never convicted of anything,” Maritas said. “I can’t change my past, who I am and what I was born into. I’m proud of who I am, what my father stood for, and I’ll defend that until the day I die.”