King of lost causes celebrates a rare victory for the greater good

My recent quixotic support for impeaching the president notwithstanding, I try to avoid lost causes in this space. For example, I could write an impassioned appeal to owners of large pickups and SUVs, urging them to trade in their polluting gas hogs and drive more fuel-efficient vehicles instead.

But I know they wouldn't listen. I've come to realize that, for the most part, people are going to do what they want to do. If a big ol' pickup is for sale on the lot and a guy's gotta have it, oil dependence and greenhouse gas emissions aren't going to be part of the discussion.

Same thing with Wal-Mart. For years, I urged friends and relatives to spend their money in stores other than Wal-Mart. I would mention the union-busting tactics, the undercutting of small businesses, the worker abuses. None of it mattered. Even my wife occasionally could not resist Wal-Mart's prices and selection. I recently gave up that little crusade.

Las Vegas mass transit is yet another example. The dismal performance of the Las Vegas Monorail ruined whatever momentum might have been building to develop a useful mass transit system here. Now, at a time when traffic is getting steadily worse, a transit system for local commuters is all but dead. The Regional Transportation Commission remains optimistic, I'm sure, but the fact is that most Las Vegans don't want to ride any trains, trams, subways or buses. They want to drive their Hummers and F-350s, no matter how long it takes to get to work or how much it costs.

Every so often, however, the conventional wisdom about lost causes is proved wrong. A case in point: the new dealers union at the Wynn Las Vegas.

If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have pegged the prospects of a dealers union at the Wynn as very remote -- a lost cause. Las Vegas history is littered with failed attempts to organize casino dealers. In 2001, a campaign to organize dealers at 11 casinos resulted in victorious elections at just three -- the Tropicana, Stratosphere and New Frontier -- and an actual contract was secured only at the New Frontier.

The Wynn dealers, however, were not deterred by the past. Enraged by resort owner Steve Wynn's decision to pool their tips, the dealers boldly joined forces and demanded an election. The vote to join the Transport Workers Union passed 444-149. Wynn, chagrined by his miscalculation and the overwhelming tally, decided not to challenge the vote.

It remains to be seen whether the organizing effort at the Wynn will result in an actual contract. Surely the negotiations will be animated. It's also uncertain whether the movement will spread to other Las Vegas resorts. The Transit Workers Union is getting calls from dealers at other casinos, but the fact that no other resort operator followed Wynn's lead on tip sharing blunts the likelihood that additional properties will be targeted.

Still, the mere existence of organized dealers at a large Strip resort is a historic event.

That's not the only surprise of recent vintage. As a longtime Nevadan, I was shocked last year when a healthy majority of the state's voters endorsed the initiative banning smoking in stores and restaurants and bars that serve food. Despite a growing national movement against smoking in public places, I assumed Nevada's famed libertarian mind-set would carry the day and buck the national trend.

I was wrong on that one, too. Nevadans made it clear they are sick of wading through nasty secondhand smoke and concerned about the health effects as well. Now complaints are streaming in as citizens insist that these establishments abide by the new law. The new conventional wisdom, I'd bet, is that the smoking ban will never be expanded to include the casinos. I'm not ready to put money on that.

I'm also planning to revisit my list of lost causes. Maybe some of them aren't so hopeless after all.

Say, about your Hummer ...

Geoff Schumacher ( is Stephens Media's director of community publications. He is the author of "Sun, Sin & Suburbia: An Essential History of Modern Las Vegas" and, coming in October, "Politics, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue: The Las Vegas Years of Howard Hughes." His column appears Sunday.