LAS VEGAS — For the second time in a year, a Las Vegas resort-industry union — this time the powerful Culinary Union Local 226 — has been found guilty of violating federal labor law with threats and attempts to intimidate non-union workers on the Strip.
In a ruling released May 2, Administrative Law Judge Dickie Montemayor found that Culinary “has engaged in certain unfair labor practices” and ordered the union “to cease and desist.”
Eleven months earlier, threats made by an IATSE Local 720 representative to a non-union Bellagio audio engineer led the National Labor Relations Board to nullify an October 2012 representation election and call for a second election.
In the Culinary case, the judge ordered the union to, within 14 days, post a public admission —signed by a Culinary representative — that “[t]he National Labor Relations Board has found that we violated Federal labor law and has ordered us to post and obey this notice.”
For at least 60 days, the notice — according to Montemayor’s written ruling — must be posted by the union “in conspicuous places” at its business office and “all places where notices to employees and members are customarily posted.”
The notice states that:
FEDERAL LAW GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO:
- Form, join, or assist a union.
- Choose representatives to bargain on your behalf with your employer.
- Act together with other employees for your benefit and protection
- Choose not to engage in any of these protected activities.
In another part of the document, the union is to publicly pledge that, from now on:
“WE WILL NOT do anything to prevent you from exercising the above rights.
“WE WILL NOT threaten you with unspecified losses and/or loss of contractual benefits unless you pay union dues once we and Paris Las Vegas agree to a new collective bargaining agreement. [Editor’s note: A new five-year contract was agreed to in January.]
“WE WILL NOT in any like or related manner restrain or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed them by Section 7 of the Act.”
Montemayor’s ruling, released May 2, described how a Culinary shop steward had illegally threatened a Paris Hotel snack-bar attendant with the loss of her benefits and seniority unless she rejoined the union, which she’d left five years earlier.
Having “carefully observed the demeanor of witnesses as they testified,” wrote the judge, he concluded that the snack-bar attendant, Nani Sugianto, had testified truthfully about what happened, whereas the shop steward, Alfonso Gonzalez, had not.
According to the hearing transcript, Sugianto said that the threat occurred when she was checking with Gonzalez, a pizza cook, about newly baked pizza for the snack bar.
“Then he told me,” she said, “‘Nani I know you, we all know you, and I got a phone call from the Union rep to let you know that it will be bad for [you and your] family, since I don't pay any more Union dues. So [Gonzalez told her] if the casino signs any more contract with the Union, I will be losing all my benefits, my insurance, my seniority, and I will start over at the beginning as a new hire.”
Gonzalez, according to the hearing transcript, gave the court a different account:
Yeah, I told Nani, you know the companies almost called a strike, so if we go to strike I see that you — you're not a member, so if you stay and we don't get a contract, you can — you might lose your benefits and because we don't know — and, like I told her, you see how the company is doing right now, trying to short hours, trying to take aware [sic] hours from us, so if we lose our contract, they might not give us the benefits that we have right now and we want to keep it, we want to keep all of those benefits. So if we — you can help us to vote and be a member, we are going to be stronger.
“After carefully considering the matter and studying the record,” wrote Montemayor, “I credit the testimony of Sugianto,” whose “overall demeanor was forthright and suggested that she was being truthful about the conversation.”
The judge said he also found her testimony credible “because her action of seeking out a manager after the conversation with Gonzalez ended is consistent with her perception that she was being threatened and/or coerced. In sum, the conversation triggered action on her part. Speaking with her manager and going the step further to complain to the Board is more consistent with someone who perceived that she was coerced and/or threatened than someone who merely was given advice as to what might happen if a contract was not signed.”
On the other hand, the testimony of Gonzalez — who had met earlier in the day with a Culinary organizer — wrote the judge, was not credible:
[J]udging from [the pizza cook’s] demeanor and the manner in which he testified, his testimony surrounding the conversation appeared to be self-serving, rehearsed and calculated to neatly fall within the parameters of what the law might consider not threatening and/or coercive. Gonzalez attempted to portray himself as a close friend of Sugianto who was interested only in her well being. I find that this testimony was contrived merely to color his version of events with an artificial backdrop of legitimacy… I further find that Gonzalez was attempting to help increase Union membership during a time period when a potential strike was on the horizon and his over-zealous pursuit of that goal took the form of the conversation as described by Sugianto.
The hearing before Montemayor took place February 11, 2014. The events at issue occurred May 7, 2013.
In the IATSE — International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or the “Stagehands’ union” — matter, it was the National Labor Relations Board itself, in Washington, D. C., that surprised many observers and unanimously voted to set aside a tainted organizing election.
At issue in the case was whether a union engineer was to be considered a representative of the union when he threatened to a non-union engineer who opposed unionization.
In September 2012, IATSE Local 720 had filed a petition to represent 20 audio-visual technicians and stage hands in the Bellagio's production-services department.
Freelance audio engineer Alphonse Torres, according to the NLRB, contacted Bellagio employee Douglas Spicka — who the union recognized would be the swing vote in the upcoming representation election — and lobbied him to vote to bring in the union.
Spicka, however, later expressed opposition to the union at an organizing meeting where Torres was present. Torres then sent Spicka a text message.
“Really bro?” it said. “I never pegged u for a rat. Live & learn I guess. That’s a tough road u chose doug. U could’ve just voted no.”
Spicka immediately called Torres, who told Spicka that his remarks at the meeting had not been “cool.” Torres concluded the conversation by saying, “Bro, you know, if this vote goes through, you’re toast,” and “[t]he vote is going to go through . . . you better not vote.”
After the October 10, 2012 election resulted in a 10-to-nine vote in the union's favor, with one voided ballot, the Bellagio filed an objection to the election with the NLRB, citing the Torres threats.
The NLRB hearing officer, Mitchell S. Rubin, ruled that Torres had not been an agent of the union and so his threats had not constituted “objectionable conduct” by the union.
However, on that point the National Labor Relations Board overruled the hearing officer.
The three members unanimously found that, because the union business agent had allowed Torres — an IATSE member but not an employee in the Bellagio department — to advocate for the union at the organizing meeting, lobbying undecided employees, it was reasonable for employees to see Torres as operating with the union’s authority.
For that, they ruled, IATSE Local 720 bore responsibility for the tainted election and voided it.
Update (5/15/14): This article is also available en Español.