"In solidarity we will survive." The slogan is splashed in red paint across the white and blue cement walls of the Culinary Workers' Union hall, an unimpressive building in the older part of town.
Inside, I meet with Geoconda "Geo"
Arguello-Kline, a small woman with dark skin and smiling eyes who
is one of 100 organizers for the
"Organizing is the life for the union,"
she says. "It is the only way the union will stay strong and keep
growing. Even hotels that already have union contracts need
organizing on the inside to teach workers their rights."
Arguello-Kline knows a lot about fighting for
her rights. Born in Nicaragua, she and her family moved to Miami in
1979. Twelve people lived in a two-room
"When I lived in Miami, I made $5.50
an hour as a maid. I had no health insurance and no language skills
to find a better job," she says. Hearing of the good wages and
benefits in Las Vegas, Arguello-Kline followed her brother
"The workers have a voice here; we build
this high standard of living together. It is completely different."
Arguello-Kline worked as a maid at the Frontier
for seven years, but when the union went on strike from 1991-1998,
she wasn't daunted.
"I fought for what I believe
during those six and a half years; I believe I need that health
benefit for my family." She now works full time for the culinary
union, which means that, in addition to recruiting, she teaches
workers why a union makes sense.
says she often speaks to workers from Mexico in Spanish. She tells
them that they have a right under federal law to organize and that
no one in management can ask questions about this
It would be easier, she says, to talk
to workers in a nonunion hotel all at once, during a coffee break
or in the hotel lobby, but that's illegal because workplaces are
private property. So organizers like Arguello-Kline visit people
"We go to their houses and explain
all the benefits of a union contract. Usually, they see that there
is no comparison, and they want to be in a union," says
Arguello-Kline. With the constant deluge of newcomers moving to
town, there is always someone new to sign up.
some say they don't think union dues of $32.50 every month are
worth the money. At the new nonunion Venetian casino, cocktail
waitresses and money makers walk around the floor between slot
machines and roulette tables.
"I worked downtown
at the Horseshoe for seven years and the union never did anything
to help me," says a cocktail waitress, who serves drinks wearing an
outfit that leaves little to the imagination and a lot to be
desired. "I just don't think it matters if you work in a union
hotel or not."
Solly, who makes change for
gamblers, has worked at the Venetian since it opened last spring.
"I went to the union to train when I moved here two years ago, but
why would I want to keep paying $32 a month when I have to wait
until I'm 65 before I get any of that money back?" she
"It all depends on who you work for," says
a waitress who has been in Vegas for nine years. "If the management
isn't that great, it doesn't matter if it's union or not. I make
good money here; I love my job."
Adelson, owner of the Venetian hotel and casino, told the Las Vegas
Sun that his workers have no reason to complain because his "pay
and benefits package exceeds standard union contracts."
However, Arguello-Kline says that without job
security, a nonunion hotel worker has no
"It's very difficult to know that OK,
I've got my job, but you don't really have a job because (even)
after five years you can get fired for no reason," says
Arguello-Kline. "In a union hotel, the company needs a good reason
to fire workers."