Monday, Feb. 22, 2016 | 11 p.m.
As Donald Trump and thousands of his supporters convened at the South Point Monday night, the Culinary Union gathered a group of about a dozen local hotel workers behind a table in a suite on the 21st floor, hoping to send a message to the Republican presidential front-runner.
Workers held American flags and grasped signs that urged Trump to “Make America Great Again” by striking a deal with the union. On the other side of the table, a makeshift nameplate that read “Reserved for Donald J. Trump” sat near a copy of his famous book, “Trump: The Art of the Deal.”
Trump, whose South Point rally was scheduled to start later that evening, was not there in person. But his presence loomed over the event as workers, Culinary leaders and local clergy members sought to highlight the union’s ongoing effort to organize employees at the Trump International Hotel.
Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline drew a contrast between the Trump hotel in Toronto, where the union says workers ratified a contract last year, and the Trump property in Las Vegas, where the hotel has resisted recent attempts at unionization.
Arguello-Kline said that in Canada, Trump “respected the election, and he respected workers,” but that the Las Vegas employees are “being treated like second-class workers.”
The Culinary contends that a contract at Trump’s Las Vegas hotel would provide workers there with similar benefits and protections received now by Trump employees in Canada. At the Toronto property, workers enjoy 10 paid holidays and nine “floating holidays,” guaranteed annual raises and vacation time commensurate with certain experience levels, among other benefits, according to the Culinary.
Celia Vargas, 57, said she’s been working for two and a half years in the housekeeping department of the Trump hotel in Las Vegas. She said it’s “a good place to work” but that the hotel’s health insurance plan has proven insufficient to help with her breast cancer. She wants a union contract so she can have better health insurance and job security, she said.
Carmen Llarull, 64, said she’s worked in the Trump hotel housekeeping department for three years. She described the environment at the hotel as “very intense.”
“People are not happy because everybody is afraid to lose their job,” she said. “It’s like we’re not allowed to talk about the union.”
Llarull claims that she actually did briefly lose her job: She said she was one of the first few employees who began wearing union buttons to work, and that the hotel let her go after she refused to remove the button. The next day, however, the hotel said that was a mistake and reinstated her with back pay, Llarull said.
She said she wears a union button every day now.
Even before employees voted for unionization, Donald Trump’s presidential run provided the Culinary with some opportune moments to draw attention to its organizing effort.
The union staged a big protest outside the hotel in August, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley — then a Democratic candidate for president — showed his support for the cause in person earlier that week. Similarly, Hillary Clinton stopped by a union demonstration at the Trump hotel in October.
Then, in early December, the union announced that a majority of eligible hotel employees had voted in favor of joining the Culinary Local 226 and the Bartenders Union Local 165, both of which are affiliates of Unite Here. The Trump hotel contested the election to the National Labor Relations Board later in December.
Most recently, the Culinary announced over the weekend that it scored a “major breakthrough” in a report from a hearing officer for the labor board. Finding no objectionable conduct by the union or workers, the officer recommended in a Feb. 18 report that “the employer’s objections be overruled in their entirety,” according to the Culinary.
But hotel management disagrees with that report, according to a company statement emailed Monday by Jill Martin, assistant general counsel with the Trump Organization.
“The hearing officer’s recommendations erroneously disregarded the severe misconduct undertaken by union agents, which clearly impacted an incredibly close election,” the statement said. “We will continue our fight to ensure a fair election for our valued associates, many of whom vigorously oppose union representation.”
The hotel has two weeks to challenge the hearing officer’s recommendation, the Culinary said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Culinary said that Monday marked the start of a “multi-city tour” that will follow Trump on the campaign trail in coming weeks. The union also plans to rally on Tuesday, the day of Nevada's Republican caucus, at Trump’s Las Vegas hotel.