Station Casinos’ failure to bargain with Culinary may pose existential threat

By: - March 24, 2022 2:24 pm

A Culinary Union member asks the Nevada Gaming Control Board during a meeting on March 2 to investigate Station Casinos’ failure to bargain. (Photo: Dana Gentry)

Station Casinos, the owner of nine casinos and one of the largest employers in the state, has resorted to an assortment of tactics to avoid collective bargaining with the Culinary Union, the largest union in the state. Now, the Culinary wants Nevada gaming regulators to use the biggest hammer of all – the threat of license revocation – to gain the casino company’s compliance with federal labor law.

Culinary Union Secretary Treasurer Ted Pappageorge wrote to the Gaming Control Board that Station has acted in an “unsuitable manner as they have displayed a disregard for federal law and legal process that reflects discredit on the Nevada gaming industry.” The union is asking regulators to take disciplinary action “up to and including revoking their privileged gaming licenses for findings of suitability.”

“The Culinary Union seems unable to win the hearts and minds of our team members, so they just continue with their harassment and their thuggish attempts to intimidate Station Casinos, whose employees voted us the top casino employer in Las Vegas,” a spokesperson for the company said via email. 

The union has won the right to represent workers at seven Station Casino properties. Two Fiesta properties have since closed and the Palms has been sold. Station also contends employees voted to decertify the union at Boulder and Palace Stations, where the company no longer recognizes the union as a bargaining agent.

The union alleges the decertification was illegal and that employees were threatened with losing their jobs during the pandemic if they supported the union. An unfair labor practice case is pending trial before the National Labor Relations Board.

Last year, an NLRB administrative judge found Station’s parent company, Red Rock Resorts, Inc., “has engaged in contumacious conduct by failing to respond fully to a federal subpoena issued by the NLRB.”

“The Control Board does have jurisdiction over federal law violations on licensed properties. This is arguably a violation of federal law under the National Labor Relations Act,” said UNLV’s Boyd Law Professor Ruben Garcia. “They also have an interest in ensuring suitable operations, and if you’re violating that would seem to be unsuitable.”

Nevada law requires licensees abide by two overriding principles – that they operate with honesty and integrity and conduct “suitable operations.”

“Chair (Brin) Gibson has informed me that at this time the Nevada Gaming Control Board has no comment regarding the Culinary Union’s request for the Board to investigate Red Rock Resorts, Inc.,” Michael Lawton, the board’s senior economic analyst, said via email.

Gaming Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Togliatti did not respond to a request for comment.  

Frank Schreck, a former gaming commissioner and lawyer for whom Gibson briefly worked in 2020, declined comment because he represents Station Casinos. A spokesman says Marc Rubenstein is the company’s outside attorney. 

Gold standard

Gaming regulators have intervened, albeit it marginally, in at least one Nevada labor dispute involving a casino company.

Then-U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, a former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, repeatedly called in 1997 for gaming regulators “to take action against the Frontier hotel-casino for alleged spying and playing dirty tricks on striking workers,” the Las Vegas Sun reported.

“I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again,” Reid said at the time. “This is a privileged license. I think there should be hearings by Nevada gaming authorities to find out if these allegations are valid and true.”

Then-Control Board Chairman Bill Bible acknowledged the board was investigating the Frontier. 

“I sincerely hope this strike is settled quickly,” said then-gubernatorial candidate Kenny Guinn, adding “as your governor my No. 1 priority for you will be to step in and personally involve myself in settling this strike.”

Guinn said he would return campaign contributions from the Frontier’s owners, the Elardi family, if the control board took action against the licensee. 

No complaint was ever filed, according to the board.

While intervention in labor disputes is rare, gaming regulators have required licensees, such as Wynn Las Vegas, to comply with federal laws prohibiting sexual harassment.

“I just don’t know if they’ll see this federal law as equally worthy of protection,” says Garcia.

Last week, Togliatti, a former judge, paused the licensing bid of billionaire Barry Diller to become the largest shareholder of MGM Resorts International stock to allow the GCB to investigate allegations that Diller and others broke federal securities law by engaging in insider trading. The Control Board had recommended approval of Diller just days before news broke of the federal investigations.  

“No one has a right to a revocable, privileged Nevada gaming license,” said Pappageorge. “Gaming regulators have a duty to make sure license-holders, like Station Casinos, are always operating in a way befitting Nevada’s gold standard of gaming industry regulation.”

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.