blank.gif (51 bytes) Power and Privilege

More Than They
Bargained For

by Bruce Esgar

he poet T.S. Eliot once referred to April as the cruelest month. That is especially true for Nevada Employees For The Right to Work (NERTW) because April is the month the Las Vegas Culinary union’s (Local 226) financial statements become available to the public.

Nothing is more painful for a group dedicated to educating employees about their choices in a right-to-work state than seeing how little money the union truly spends on its members.

Dollars, No Sense

According to financial reporting forms filed by the Culinary union with the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., Local 226 in Las Vegas had 36,870 members at the end of 1998 who altogether paid $13 million in dues that year. What was most amazing about 1998 was how the Culinary, which had previously been $1.2 million in debt, was lucky enough to receive $2 million in donations and contributions that allowed it rise out of debt and close the year with $1.2 million in assets. (The law does not require the union to reveal who gave them the donations.)

To celebrate being back in the black, the Culinary spent almost $2 million on various expenses including food and beverages ($73,000), postage and mailings ($155,637), and public relations ($79,311)—all in a year when the union had no major contracts to negotiate or strikes to manage.

Culinary also spent millions to pay the salaries of more than 200 organizers. The result? A net gain in 1998 of only 1,000 members. Lucky for the organizers, they don’t work in the private sector.

How much did the union spend on representing its members in the workplace—its real responsibility—in 1998? The Culinary spent $4,455 on negotiations— significantly less than the $15,321 it spent on its "special events." And, during the year, Culinary employed only five grievance takers for its almost 37,000 members: one for every 7,400 people.

This is what $32.50 in monthly union dues really pays for in Las Vegas: endless perks and party favors for a union that couldn’t possibly be able to keep up with the day-to-day grievances of its rank and file.

Take That To The Bank, If You Can

There is good news, however. NERTW has discovered that the more information it reveals about the union’s accounting practices, the more people are empowered to rethink their workplace status. The sum of $390 annually is a lot of money for most working families in Las Vegas, and many people have decided they want to the freedom to decide how to spend their paycheck. It is a business decision really, and one that Nevada’s law makes possible for all employees.

The Culinary union, however, is also a business, and like any other company that sees its cash flow sagging, it recently modified its tactics in an effort to try to nail down that cash flow. Workers who have signed union cards in the last six months are finding that the cards now contain new wording that requires them to continue to pay dues—even if they resign—for up to one year. This is the single biggest issue NERTW is facing right now. Other workers, including dozens at the newly opened Bellagio, unknowingly signed a card that requires them to pay dues "irrespective" of whether they are union members. The only way to successfully resign and stop paying dues is to first, write and request a copy of the card you signed, chart out the months and days until you reach a 15-day anniversary of your signing date, and re-send a resignation letter. If a person fails to do this exactly during the 15 days, the process begins again. This year-long contract applies to all workers even if they signed a union card one day before they decided to resign.

NERTW has spoken extensively with lawyers involved with right-to-work issues and have been told that this is perfectly legal. So now NERTW is helping workers send away for copies of their dues card and has also started a calendar to remind people of their upcoming anniversary. For an organization that prides itself on educating people about their rights, it is frustrating to have to tell a single mother or a family with one wage-earner that they really have no rights and will have to wait for their money.

Right To Work

The issue of choice is also about to come sharply into focus as the Culinary union turns the full force of its propaganda machine against The Venetian hotel on the Strip. Already the union has been trying to pressure the hotel’s management into just giving it a contract instead of allowing the employees to vote for or against union representation. The price for The Venetian insisting on democracy is standard Culinary fare—sidewalk protests morning, noon and night; letters, videotapes and mass mail pieces misrepresenting the hotel’s actions and policies; and regular verbal assaults gleefully printed in the so-called unbiased Las Vegas press.

For those who may not know, the hotel has offered its employees wages and benefits which it boasts are superior to anything contained in a union-negotiated contract. That news alone, along with a promise to insist on a National Labor Relations Election, led more than 140,000 people to contact The Venetian about the 4,000 positions available. With so many people making the choice to work at The Venetian knowing well in advance what its policies are going to be, what really, then, the Culinary protesting? Clearly it cannot be anything having to do with higher wages or better benefits for employees.

It all goes back to where we started: dollars and sense. The union knows a good deal when it sees one. The Venetian’s 3,000 workers are worth $32.50 a head per month. And that would pay for a lot of special events. NJ

Bruce Esgar is president of the Nevada Employees for the Right to Work.


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