Judge allows hearing on Culinary charges against Station Casinos

A National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge will allow some 80 charges of unfair labor practices filed by Culinary Local 226 against Station Casinos LLC to proceed to a hearing by the full three-member board.

Station officials on Friday greeted the judge's decision as a partial victory. The company has described the union's 15-year effort to organize Station's 13,000 employees as "an ongoing campaign of harassment" against the company.

Many of the 80 complaints deal with comments made by supervisors to employees wearing union buttons or making comments perceived to be anti-union.

Yvanna Cancela, the union's political director, declined to comment. She said the union plans to respond at a news conference Monday.

As of June 30, the government had filed 201 charges of labor law violations against the locals casino company. The seven-month trial ended in May, with Judge Geoffrey Carter issuing his ruling late Thursday in Washington, D.C.

"While we are gratified that the overwhelming majority of the charges were dismissed -- including charges that were dismissed during the trial due to union misconduct -- we are dismayed at some of the (judge's) findings," said Valerie Murzl, Station Casinos' senior vice president of human resources.

The next step is an NLRB review of the decision. As of Friday, no hearing date had been scheduled.

Murzl said the company was confident that the board would rule "that in no instance did Station Casinos violate any aspect of the National Labor Relations Act."

Among the 83 charges allowed to proceed was a complaint made by Mayra Gonzalez, who works in the housekeeping department at Aliante Station. Gonzalez claimed she felt threatened in a preshift meeting as several co-workers and Assistant Housekeeping Manager Elizabeth Barahona observed her signing her union card.

At the meeting, Barahona said that employees "should be careful what they sign because if they signed a union card, they might get in trouble or receive more rooms to clean," according to Carter's 151-page ruling.

Carter also found that Jacob Jimenez was unlawfully interrogated for 15 minutes on Feb. 23, 2010, by his supervisor at Boulder Station about his "union membership, activities and sympathies."

In another case, Carter ruled the company had violated labor laws by "engaging in surveillance" of employee Ana Galo on Feb. 25 and Feb. 27 to discover her union activities.

He also found Galo, who worked as a cook's helper at Fiesta Henderson, was illegally interrogated about her union activities, as well as threatened by her supervisor, who invited her to quit her job.

Both Galo and Norma Flores, a kitchen runner, were punished by being forced to work alone at the casino's buffet because they supported the union. In his ruling, Carter ordered Station to make Galo "whole for any loss of earnings and other benefits."

The company was also ordered to reinstate Teresa Debellonia (Fiesta Rancho) and Adelina Nunez (Fiesta Henderson).

However, Carter found no evidence that Station discriminated against its Latino employees because of their ethnic origin. In February, the Culinary union launched an aggressive campaign of demonstrations against Station's alleging the company had done so.

The company counters that 26 percent of its employees are Hispanic, in line with the demographics of Las Vegas, and that 14 percent of managers are as well.

Scott Nielson, executive vice president and chief development officer with Fertitta Entertainment LLC, said in an interview Friday that any claim of racial discrimination is "a blatant lie."

Nielson called the union's activities a continuing effort to look for more union dues. He described the company and its 13,000 employees as a "target-rich environment" for those organizing efforts.

"The Culinary wants a headline they can put on their website and take to another jurisdiction," Nielson said. "They have been trying to organize (Station's) for years. Our team members have never felt the need to join."

Peter Pantaleo, a labor attorney with DLA Piper in New York, acknowledged the cost of acquiescence to the union's demands would have been less that the cost of fighting these charges. But Pantaleo said Station's "knew that if we settle the first 400, there would be another 400 claims."

Nielson said there was no downside for the union in attacking Station. He said unlike other casino owners in Las Vegas, the company has never "fought back."

According to a recent casting call and script that was circulated by LA Casting, Station could be preparing to fight back.

"The Culinary union is spending your dues trying to run off customers and entertainers from Station Casinos. Hurting your friends and neighbors in this time when every Las Vegas jobs is important. Doing nothing for you. Is that how you want your dues spent? If not, just don't pay 'em. You don't have to, it's the law, Check out Pay No Union Dues.com," the script said.

As of Friday, the website, paynouniondues.com, had yet to be launched.

When asked whether the company was preparing to run anti-union commercials, Nielson said plans were being discussed to launch an educational campaign about the right to work laws in Nevada.

He said it was premature to say whether those commercials would be released. Nielson said it was obviously pushing the company in a different direction, "if we decide to move forward."

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.