Even as unions fret that many of their members will vote for Donald Trump, Trump’s company is actively fighting a union campaign by his own workers in Las Vegas. We spoke to Vegas workers about what’s at stake.
On the Vegas strip, the Culinary Workers Union reigns supreme. The 57,000-strong group boast that 98% of the jobs on the downtown strip are unionized. A glaring exception to that is the Trump hotel. After a long union campaign, workers at the Trump property voted to unionize late last year, a move that was immediately subjected to ongoing exhaustive legal challenges by Donald Trump’s company.
In Las Vegas last week, we spoke to a Trump hotel worker who is active in the effort to unionize, as well as a worker at The Bellagio, a plush property on the strip that has long been unionized.
Alma Zamarin is originally from the Philippines. She lived in California for ten years, working at hotels, and has worked for nearly six years at Trump Las Vegas as an on-call food server and bartender. She has been active in the effort to unionize Trump’s Vegas operation, which is a full-time condo residence as well as a hotel. She says that management practices unfair favoritism in hiring and promotion. She started at $8.50 an hour more than five years ago, and currently makes $10 an hour. Asked whether she thinks Donald Trump (who once drove by his picketing workers in his limo) is conscious of the union campaign, she said, “He knows it, but he’s ignoring it.”
- “Before, when it’s not a union, I go to HR many, many times, and they don’t listen. If you are not the favorite, even if you’re doing the best job, it’s nothing.”
- “Most of the managers told our coworkers, ‘Oh, the union is just coming here in the hotel because they want your money.’ So they come to me and ask me and I’m explaining everything—union dues is like a payment for our insurance, for our benefits and everything. Look at the insurance you have now at the hotel: you’re paying more, and there’s less benefits.”
- “When we get hired, they tell us they have an open door. But how come with an open door, it’s so hard to find him, reach him? They just say it, but they don’t do it.”
- “[The residents of the building] are now with us, because they know how management treats us. Some of the owners there are also Filipino, so they’re asking me how it is, so I’m telling them the truth.”
- “Mr. Trump—we are his employees, working hard for him to make his money. He said he wants America to be great again. How come he won’t make us great again, the employees of his hotel? I would tell him please give us a raise, and give us good benefits, because we are the ones who are making you rich.”
Jerome Rodgers has worked at the Bellagio for 12 years. He’s a bar porter who keeps all the bars stocked, from five a.m. to one p.m. He moved to Las Vegas from Pennsylvania in 1979. He makes $17.86 per hour, and is a shop steward for the union. He says Las Vegas is “very affordable, if you got the union,” and that most of the unionized workers he knows own homes, cars, have health insurance, and generally lead comfortable middle class lifestyles.
- “If there’s problems with the other bar porters, or if somebody gets in trouble, they’ll come and get me and I’ll help them. If somebody gets in trouble, they have to have somebody there to represent them, so I’ll sit in the meetings. I’ve been to quite a few meetings with upper management. Sometimes [they get along with the union], and sometimes not. They’re pretty fair. Bellagio is one of the best hotels, so everyone tries to keep it fair across the board.”
- “We’re the backbone of the money they’re making... We all deserve a fair shake in everything.”
- “There’s a big difference in your standard of living, everything. If you have the union behind you, you feel you can do anything. You feel secure. We all want to feel secure, have a decent wage, insurance, benefits. If you got that, your employees will be happy, and they’ll work better. There are a lot of happy people where I work.”
In a nation in which only 11% of workers are unionized, the Las Vegas strip is an ostentatious outlier. Bethany Khan, a Culinary Union spokesperson, explains it like so: “In our 80 years, we’ve seen a lot. We’ve seen politicians and pundits come and go, we’ve seen companies and owners come and go, and casinos. But the union and the workers who built this town, we’re not gonna leave. This is our town.”
If Donald Trump does win a significant portion of union votes, those votes will probably not come from Las Vegas.