Las Vegas Sun

November 23, 2017

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New contract gives Wynn dealers more job protection

Comes with rehiring policy, controversial tip-sharing plan

Liz Benston discusses the Wynn contract

Las Vegas Sun reporter Liz Benston talks with KSNV anchor Dan Ball about the recent labor contract signed by Wynn casino dealers.

Among the fears of many casino workers in town is not just losing their jobs, but whether they can find work when the economy improves.

That’s less of a concern now for some dealers at Wynn Las Vegas, thanks to a new labor contract that is the only one of its kind in Las Vegas. The resort recently hired back some full-time dealers who had been let go in June as part of property-wide layoffs.

Such hire-back policies are typical of union contracts across the country, including Las Vegas and the roughly 60,000 hotel workers who are members of the Culinary Union. But they’re rare for casino dealers, who are mostly nonunion despite recent attempts at union organization to maintain wages and benefits in uncertain economic times.

The rehires come as Wynn dealers, in a four-year battle of wills with management, last week approved their first labor contract. It is unusual, given employer pressure to keep gambling floors nonunion as well as past efforts by dealers to oust unions that were unable to deliver contracts for them.

“This is a remarkable thing for dealers at any property on the Strip,” let alone a premier resort, said Jeffrey Waddoups, a professor of labor management economics at UNLV.

Whether this incremental victory will translate into additional labor contracts or better working conditions at other casinos is uncertain, especially in an era of cost cuts. At Caesars Palace, the only other casino in town where dealers are represented by the Transport Workers Union, management has imposed changes dealers don’t like and tense negotiations toward a contract have not been fruitful since dealers there organized nearly three years ago.

Howard Cole, a labor management attorney for casinos and other employers in Las Vegas, called the contract a “Pyrrhic victory” for dealers because it enshrines a controversial tip-sharing policy and offers less protection from terminations than typical labor contracts. That it took a year to approve also indicates it wasn’t an easy sell, Cole said.

“I’d be hard pressed to identify material gains in this contract that would give (the union) leverage in organizing other hotel-casinos.”

Even the recall rights give Wynn broad discretion to decide which employees are hired back, according to their skills, he said.

The vote to approve the Wynn contract — 258 to 65 — reflected solidarity among dealers who have reason to fear for their jobs in the sorry economy. About 60 percent of Wynn’s 500-plus union dealers cast votes two weeks ago.

Some dealers opposed the contract because the very issue that triggered union organizing by upset dealers — a controversial tip-sharing policy implemented in 2006 — is now part of the contract.

“We’re so proud of our members for passing this historic vote with such a strong margin and extremely high voter participation,” said Kanie Kastroll, president of Transport Workers Union Local 721, which has represented Wynn dealers since 2007. “They’ve demonstrated that they truly understand the value of union protection, brotherhood and a labor contract.”

Wynn Las Vegas representatives had no comment on the contract vote, which has yet to be formally signed by union and company representatives.

Employees who were laid off months ago were among those who voted.

Laid-off full-time dealers are still considered union members under the contract and are eligible to be called back to work when jobs become available, Kastroll said. Some jobs opened up recently when dealers left for other casinos, she said.

Wynn honored terms of the contract by hiring back more than a dozen of these dealers with their accumulated benefits and seniority, even though the contract had not yet been approved, Kastroll said. Absent the provision, such casino employees — like most American workers — would not be entitled to their old jobs, she said.

Recall rights are a boon for workers, Waddoups said: “While they collect unemployment, they have some hope that they’ll get their job back when the economy gets better.”

And employers benefit by keeping a skilled workforce on standby that doesn’t need to be trained, he said.

Employers have selfish motives, too, in embracing hire-back provisions: “Companies may not want to pay (workers) because they can’t afford it but they don’t necessarily want them getting a job somewhere else, after all they’ve invested into training them,” Waddoups said.

The tip policy — which aimed to improve customer service — reduced dealers’ tips by splitting a percentage with their immediate supervisors. Nevada’s labor commissioner declared the policy legal in July and dealers have appealed the ruling.

Kastroll defended the contract, saying it protects workers from potential decreases in their share of the tip pool and prevents other types of casino workers from sharing in table game tips. Nor does the contract interfere with dealers’ ongoing legal challenge against the tip policy, she said.

Some dealers, disappointed that the union was unable to reverse the tip policy, have filed a decertification petition with the National Labor Relations Board to remove the Transport Workers Union as their bargaining representative.

The 10-year contract is identical to the “last, best and final” contract the casino presented to Wynn dealers nearly a year ago, which was due to expire Nov. 17.

Citing the downturn and an effort to improve the lot of remaining employees, Wynn Resorts in June announced 261 layoffs along with a plan to reinstate earnings for 3,700 workers by increasing salaries that were previously cut and restoring 40-hour workweeks for hourly employees.

Nearly 60 of those who lost jobs over the summer were union dealers, Kastroll said. While the layoffs may have spooked remaining dealers against supporting the union and a labor contract, it may have inspired some to take their chances on a contract with some job protection, she said.

Much like the Culinary Union’s contracts covering tens of thousands of restaurant and hotel workers in Las Vegas, the 54-page Wynn contract establishes a procedure for layoffs that begins with those with the least seniority. Also, part-time dealers can’t be used on a full-time basis to replace laid-off full-time dealers. According to the contract, workers with more seniority may bid on shifts that become available, preventing the company from hiring outside dealers for full-time work.

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