LAS VEGAS, NV — On the eve of the Nevada caucus, Donald Trump addressed a rowdy crowd of thousands in Las Vegas’ South Point casino, speaking in an arena usually used for rodeos. When he is elected president, he told the roaring crowd, “We’re going to have such great deals.”
In a suite 21 floors up from the arena, workers from Trump’s signature Vegas hotel, who voted to unionize in December, waited for Trump to arrive and make a deal with them.
The workers, many of them still wearing their uniforms after a long shift, sat with their attorney along one side of a wooden table. On the other side sat an empty chair with a name tag for Trump and a copy of his bestselling book The Art of the Deal. Though the workers did not expect Trump to stop by and bargain with them on his way to address the rally, they wanted to dramatize their plight.
“Mr. Trump is a very good business man,” linens worker Rosebert Donato told ThinkProgress. “I hope he will soon sit down with us.”
“We’re just waiting for a contract,” housekeeper Maria Jaramillo added. “We deserve one. We’re not second-class workers. So we’re here, waiting for him.”
They may be waiting for a long time. As soon as a majority of the 523 workers in Trump’s hotel voted to unionize on December 5, the hotel’s management tried to have the results thrown out, claiming that workers were intimidated by the Culinary Workers Union into voting yes. After weeks of reviewing their claims, a local officer of the National Labor Relations Board sided with the workers.
“I recommend that the Employer’s objections be overruled in their entirety,” wrote hearing officer Lisa Dunn. “The Employer has failed to establish that the Board Agent, the Petitioner, the committee leaders, or the Regional Director engaged in objectionable conduct affecting the results of the election. Thus, there is insufficient evidence to set aside the election held on December 4 and 5.”
Jaramillo and her coworkers then formed a bargaining committee, hoping that management would soon recognize their union and begin negotiating with them. But the Trump hotel signaled this week that they have no intention of doing so.
“We will continue our fight to ensure a fair election for our valued associates, many of whom vigorously oppose union representation,” said Jill Martin, an attorney for The Trump Organization, in a statement to reporters. “The hearing officer’s recommendations erroneously disregarded the severe misconduct undertaken by Union agents, which clearly impacted an incredibly close election.” Trump management has until next week to formally challenge the NLRB recommendation, and then the Board’s regional chapter will determine whether or not to certify the union. Even if the local board backs the workers, Trump can further delay by appealing their ruling to the federal board in Washington, D.C.
For some workers, like Donato, that wait is especially painful. After three years working at the hotel, Donato was suspended and then fired shortly after the union election, which he thinks was retaliation for his open support for the union. He is desperately hoping to win his job back as part of the bargaining process, and says he is mostly worried for his elderly mother and siblings in the Philippines, who depend on the money he sends them.
“I work very hard at the hotel, so I know I was let go because I’m a very strong member of the [union] committee,” he told ThinkProgress, eyes watering. “I passed out flyers during my breaks, and told my coworkers that I want a union because I want my job to be secure and have benefits.”
These same concerns motivated Jaramillo, who has worked at the Trump International Hotel for the last seven years. Wearing a Micky Mouse sweatshirt zipped over her housekeeping uniform, she told ThinkProgress she knows well how much better unionized hotel workers are treated, because she used to be one.
Before leaving work to care for her third child, she worked for six years at the buffet at the Mandalay Bay casino on the Las Vegas Strip. She had hoped she could stay home from work for several years to raise her children. Then the housing bubble burst and plunged the nation into a deep recession, and her husband lost his construction job. When she looked for another hospitality job, the only one she could find was at the Trump Hotel.
“At Mandalay Bay I had health insurance for free, a retirement [account], every year I got a raise, I got holiday pay,” she said. “Over here, we don’t get an [annual] raise, we have to pay for our insurance, and we have no retirement. It’s a big difference. I’m not making enough to give my kids a better future.”
Jaramillo learned of yet another difference this past Saturday, when she was not able to vote in the Democratic caucus because she had to work. Hotels represented by the Culinary Workers Union gave their employees a few hours off mid-day to allow them to participate.
“I wanted to vote,” she said. “My vote could have made the difference.”
With the nation’s eyes on the state of Nevada during the Republican caucuses on Tuesday night, the Trump workers will take to the streets outside their hotel, demanding that management recognize their union and sit down with them at the bargaining table.