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Union exec sites conflicts with management even as service workers OK deal

Earlier this month, it appeared that Sam Noel’s regular public speaking engagements would come to an end.

As the vice president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1107’s approximately 300-member unit within the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Noel has addressed the authority’s monthly board of directors meetings for more than a year, mainly to contend that hourly workers had unfairly borne the brunt of austerity measures.

The Aug. 9 authority meeting, however, began with Local 1107 President Al Martinez reporting that authority workers had voted almost unanimously in favor of a two-year contract adjustment that included a bonus and a raise.

“I don’t have to tell you that workers have waited a long time for this to happen,” he said.

Yet during that same meeting, Noel came to the lectern in his trademark union T-shirt to say that not everything had been solved.

“I’d like to have a happy tone here, but I’m sorry,” said Noel, an electrician by trade. “We still have problems with union members and management.”

In particular, he contends that authority managers overseeing operation of the Las Vegas Convention Center have engaged in a campaign of petty harassment and selective enforcement of work rules against some union members, particularly those who handle day-to-day functions such as cleaning. Noel added that he would seek Local 1107 leadership’s permission for informational picketing against the authority, although probably not until September.

The authority’s management and the union stand far apart now on most everything, starting with the scope of the issue. Noel said most of the problems have arisen primarily in the authority’s client services unit, with about 120 SEIU members, that tends to the center’s basic operations.

But Mark Olson, the authority’s vice president of human resources, said problems have not been concentrated in any area, including the client services unit, which he estimates has 90 people.

Noel said that a couple of fresh arbitration cases would bring the total filed against the authority to a dozen, more than any other SEIU job site in Las Vegas.

But Olson counts only six arbitrations going back to 2003, including four related to contract interpretations such as work scheduling rules. Arbitration entails bringing in a mutually agreed-upon professional to settle a dispute that the two sides could not work out on their own after following several prescribed steps.

“His comment was baffling,” Olson said. “We have the normal issues coming up here and there, but I don’t think it’s anything unusual.”

Moreover, Olson said, management and worker representatives have regular monthly meetings to air grievances and often settle problems there.

“We are not going to violate our agreement (with SEIU) or violate any national labor laws,” he said. “We are way too visible for that.”

But the meetings have been little more than a rubber stamp for managers’ actions, said Noel, leading him to consider raising the union’s public profile through informational pickets. First, he added, he wants to meet with authority President Rossi Ralenkotter to reach some accord.

“These are problems we never used to have before but just started in the last couple of years,” Noel said. “We aren’t trying to get away with anything. We just want to do our jobs without being constantly harassed.”

As an example, he cited one unidentified worker who received a written reprimand for smoking while driving an electric cart. While prohibited in the authority’s work rules, he said others, including managers, have done so with impunity.

Olson can only guess at the source of the union’s unhappiness.

“Maybe (Noel) needs to show the union is active in doing something for its people,” Olson said. “Maybe he doesn’t like us. Maybe it’s that time of the year. I just don’t know.”

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at
toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

 

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