Twenty-two Culinary Union members were arrested Thursday night for blocking an entrance to Palace Station, an act of civil disobedience meant to show support for the union organizing effort at Station Casinos Inc.
"I'm willing to be arrested. I'm out here to fight for equal rights for all workers," said Jeanette Hill, a 32-year employee with the Flamingo, who was one of the protesters arrested.
Metropolitan Police Capt. Larry Burns estimated that 750 Culinary workers from casinos in downtown Las Vegas and the Strip protested Thursday near Palace Station. For more than six hours, they marched along Sahara Avenue carrying signs that read, "Unfair Station Casinos" and chanting, "Stop the pressure, stop the lies, it's our right to unionize" and "Hey, hey, ho, ho, union busting's got to go."
Burns ordered the protesters to clear the street and most of them did. But 22 who refused were arrested, placed in a police bus and charged with failure to clear the streets, a misdemeanor. Protesters who cleared the street stood by and chanted "Si se puede" and "Yes we can" as their fellow protesters were loaded onto the bus.
The protesters also urged Station Casinos to support the union's efforts to establish a new standard when it comes to alleged discrimination against employees based on national origin.
Culinary Local 226, which organized the protest, seeks to shift the burden of proof or intent in discrimination cases from the employee to the employer, a union spokesman said.
The Culinary is trying unionize almost 13,000 workers at the 18 hotel-casinos operated by Station Casinos in Southern Nevada.
"I am out here to support all the people here. I want Station Casinos to respect our right to organize a union. We want equal rights for all our employees," said Michael Wagner, a bartender at Green Valley Ranch for 15 years.
Dawn Vaseur, a cocktail waitress for 10 years at Santa Fe Station, said, "We are here to notify Station Casinos that we are not giving up until they respect us and sit down with us and give us a contract."
Martha Montano, a casino porter and organizer at Red Rock Resort, said organizers like herself want Station Casinos to treat them "with respect."
"We Station workers want to be able to decide for ourselves whether we want to join a union," Montano said. "It's our choice to make, not the company's, and they need to respect that."
Lori Nelson, a spokeswoman for Station Casinos, said the company prides itself on being fair to its employees and treating them with respect.
"We have always recognized our team members' right to be represented by a union if they so choose," Nelson said. "And it is disingenuous for the Culinary Union to try to convince the community that we are anti-union when the truth is we're pro-employee."
In a statement, the Culinary noted Latino employees were affected the most by Station Casinos employment decisions.
Six of the eight worker organizers who have been fired by the company are Latino, the union said.
The National Labor Relations Board's hearing concerning "alleged illegal unfair labor practices" by the casino company was scheduled to resume Feb. 28. Nelson said the company would not comment on the union's charges of unfair labor practices because the hearing was in progress.
The federal government was expected to finish presenting its case in two weeks, followed by Station Casinos presenting its defense, which was expected to last several months.
The NLRB alleges that for approximately seven months Station Casinos used threats, intimidation, surveillance, bribery, discrimination and other illegal activities against employees engaged in lawfully protected union activities.
"A Nevada gaming company like Station Casinos should not use divide-and-conquer tactics to prevent its workers from joining unions," Culinary Local 226 President Geoconda Arguello Kline said in a statement. "We hope Station Casinos will support the new anti-discrimination legislation and respect all workers' legitimate rights."
Nelson described the union's protest Thursday as a media stunt. She said it was a continuation "of their corporate harassment campaigns that have been going on for years" against Station Casinos due to their frustration over not being able to unionize their workers.
In 2008, Station Casinos was named to Fortune magazine's list of the 100 Best Companies To Work For. The company was ranked 33rd, while being recognized for helping employees learn another language or gain citizenship.
Station Casinos, which expects to emerge this spring from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, announced in January that it would hire 1,000 workers as it increases its staffing levels.
"Of the 1,000 jobs we announced last month, we have hired 800 of those team members," Nelson said. "We also have an additional 300 full-time jobs we opened up."
Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at email@example.com or 702-477-3893.