They came armed with marriage documents, birth certificates and in some cases their children by their sides, proof incarnate.
Hundreds of bundled-up Culinary Local 226 members stood in long, cold lines Tuesday outside union headquarters in downtown Las Vegas to re-enroll in their health insurance programs, but not without a lot of complaining.
With nearly 55,000 members, the union since Dec. 3 has been trying to crack down on fraud and “take more control” of its health insurance policies by requiring members to prove their identities along with the identities of their spouses and children, said Geoconda Arguello-Kline, the union’s secretary-treasurer.
Arguello-Kline didn’t answer questions of whether the incidents of abuse and fraud have increased over the past few years or why the union was taking this step at the end of the year and in cold weather as well.
Jamie Rodriguez, 37, a bartender at Main Street Station who was standing in line Tuesday, said he was told that the re-enrollment effort was aimed at union members who have claimed people other than immediate family members as dependents who are eligible for the union’s insurance plan, even though they don’t qualify.
Another union member suggested that the union’s computer network may have been hacked, but Arguello-Kline quashed that rumor, saying in an interview in Spanish that the union was merely trying to cut down on abuse by Dec. 31.
The massive re-enrollment, she said, wasn’t just to make sure that husbands and wives were really married and that the dependents were really their children.
“Even if you are single, you must come and re-enroll,” reads the bilingual brochure that was distributed to thousands of workers by mail.
Arguello-Kline said requiring updated identity checks for health insurance is a common procedure for any business.
But what wasn’t common Tuesday is how it all played out: in front of the union’s headquarters in the middle of the day, with one long line wrapping around the block, where Wyoming Avenue meets Commerce Street. From a distance it looked more like a line for a big concert.
And for that, Arguello-Kline was apologetic.
“It was the only place we could think of to accommodate all our members,” she said in Spanish.
Although few complained about the weather, it was something to complain about. The temperature was about 27 degrees when the signups began at 6 a.m. and 44 degrees at 4 p.m. when the process ended for the day, according to the National Weather Service.
Tuesday was merely the eighth day of the gridlock, with more than a week to go to meet the Dec. 21 deadline.
Translation: Motorists beware of the neighborhood behind the Stratosphere. And Culinary members, from cooks to cocktail waitresses to bartenders, be on your mark. Word of advice: If you’re at the corner of Wyoming and Commerce, you’ve got a four- hour wait, and it’s not to pawn something and appear on some reality TV show, it’s for the sake of your health.
“This is ridiculous. It’s so poorly planned. They have us standing in the middle of the street,” said Rodriguez. “And I still don’t know why. I’ve never heard of having such an enrollment on such a massive scale.”
In his six years as a union member, Rodriguez said he’s never had to wait six hours.
“Usually once you’re in, you’re in, and the property you work for re-enrolls for you,” said Rodriguez. “So I don’t get it.”
In the mix of humanity, there was a bit of Obamacare influence in there, not entirely unusual these days.
Young adults between the ages of 19 and 26 can now be insured on their parent’s plan if their parents so choose, according to the new federal law.
That would explain the presence of Aaron Torrez, 19, son to Maria Torrez, who works at the MGM Grand, cleaning rooms.
“I need it,” said Torrez, who works at a local pizza parlor but does not have health insurance.
“I’m kind of clumsy and break things a lot,” he jokingly added while listening to music on his cellphone.
Others said the long line was worth the wait.
“We’re talking about excellent benefits for full-time positions,” said Samantha Younger, a seasonal cocktail waitress who works the summer months at the Paris Las Vegas pool. “That’s why everybody is standing in line.”
A few disgruntled union members waiting in line called the Las Vegas Fire Department to complain about the size of the crowd and the pair of outdoor tents that many had to cram into in order to start the process of re-enrolling.
But Fire Department spokesman Tim Szymanski said everything was up to code, including the tents.
He said an inspector with the fire prevention bureau was on call at the union all day and reported that everything was up to code.
“Usually when people don’t want to be there, they’re going to complain,” said Szymanski with a chuckle.
Contact reporter Tom Ragan at email@example.com or 702-224-5512.