Casino workers protest discrimination against Latino workers, union supporters

About 1,000 union members and supporters on June 2 rallied in front of the Palace Station casino in Las Vegas to protest the firing of casino workers who were trying to form a union. Eight of the ten fired union supporters are Latino. About 150 of the protestors staged a sit-in at the casino’s entrance to dramatize the company’s discrimination against Latino workers. They were arrested when they refused to leave the entrance.

Two unions organized the protest: the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and the Bartenders Union Local 165. Both are affiliated with UNITE HERE.

Palace Station is owned by Station Casinos, LLC. Workers from ten of Station-owned properties in the Las Vegas area formed an organizing committee in February 2010. Since 2007, Station workers have not received a raise, the cost of their health care benefit has increased substantially, and the company has stopped contributing to the retirement savings plan. Additionally, Station has fired 2,800 full-time workers and replaced them with 1,000 part-timers, who receive no benefits.

Station has resisted the workers’ organizing drive. In return, UNITE HERE filed National Labor Relations complaints against the company, and last year, the NLRB charged the company with 197 unfair labor practices. The hearings on the charges ended in May and a decision is expected later this year.

Station workers stopped getting raises, started paying more for their health care benefit, and stopped receiving retirement savings contributions about the same time that its current owners staged a leveraged buyout of the company. The debt accumulated during the buyout eventually led Station to declare bankruptcy.

In 2007, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, Station’s major stockholders, partnered with Colony Capital, a Los Angeles-base private equity firm, to buy Station’s outstanding shares and take the company private. To do so, they increased the company debt nearly three-fold from $1.9 billion to $5.2 billion.

Former shareholders pocketed nearly $1 billion in the deal, and company insiders pocketed about $660 million. Station workers didn’t fare so well.

Things got even worse for the workers when casino revenue began to dip shortly after the leveraged buyout and then crashed to the floor in 2008. By 2009, the company could not make payments on its debt and declared bankruptcy. The company’s reorganization plan received its final approval in May, and the company announced recently that it will emerge from bankruptcy in June.

In the meantime, the NLRB in October began holding hearings on the union’s unfair labor charges. According to a website set up by the Station workers organizing committee, “the vast majority of the government’s charges allege that, from February 19 through August 31 of last year, the company illegally used threats, intimidation, interrogation, surveillance, bribery, discouragement, discrimination, discipline and even physical assault to thwart workers efforts to form a union, rights protected by federal labor laws.”

Mario Medina, who worked at Station’s Fiesta Henderson, was one of those fired for wanting to join a union. “I was one of their best workers, but everything changed when I started wearing my union button,” Medina told Channel 8 News. “Shortly after I started wearing it, I got fired.”

The NLRB heard testimony from Station workers for about seven months. The hearings concluded on May 12 when Station declined to offer any rebuttal testimony. Since the hearings began, two of the fired workers have gotten their jobs back. Teresa Debellonia is one.

Debellonia was fired after she testified against Station at the NLRB hearings. The NLRB subsequently charged the company with retaliating against her, and the company reinstated her with back pay and no loss of seniority.

“I am a mother and I want a better future for my children,” said Debellonia, a Guest Room Attendant at Green Valley Ranch Resort Casino. “I’m happy to be back at work, but I want Station Casinos to treat its workers equally and fairly.”

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