American Casinos and Unions

Las Vegas Union Workers at a Gathering and O'Sheas Casino

Worker’s unions and American casinos have a long and complicated history. You would think with the famous involvement between East Coast crime mobs and Vegas casinos that this wouldn’t be the case. You’re going to be surprised on how the 2 entities work (and not so well) together.

This post covers the history of worker’s unions and the American casinos. It also analyzes today’s union and casino climate.

Finally, I offer a look at how the 2 are trying to work together to make the workplace environments better for their common interest — the casino worker.

What is a Worker’s Union?

Let’s start with the basics.

A worker’s (labor) union is defined by Dictionary.com as an organized group of workers who unite to make decisions about conditions affecting their work.

The United States has a long a history of unions. The first labor union was formed in 1794. They were called the Federal Society of Journeyman Cordwainers. This union was made up of shoemakers in Philadelphia, PA.

American workers have been fighting for worker’s rights ever since. This fight was met with government support under Franklin Roosevelt. He signed the New Deal, giving workers’ the rights they fought for since before the founding of this country.

Worker’s received 8-hour workdays, worker’s compensation, child labor laws, and one of my favorite holidays — Labor Day. Most importantly, they won the right to unionize.

All types of industries have labor unions. They vary by state and industry. Casinos are homes to multiple industries including service workers, food workers, casino floor dealers, and security workers.

Unions Within the Casinos

There are a variety of employee types within a single casino.

You might be a cocktail waitress on the casino floor.

You might be a blackjack dealer.

You might work in maintenance or housekeeping.

You could be an accountant in the office structure of the casino

Do they all have unions?

No.

The service and food workers have unionized. The housekeepers are trying to unionize with a lot of pushback from the casino parent companies.

This is where things get sticky. The dealers and other staff have not unionized as of the writing of this post; there’s been extensive push back and intimidation tactics from the casino owners and parent companies.

I want to talk about that for a second. We’ve all seen Casino. Vegas was a playland for the East Coast mob families from its conception.

The organized crime families in America have always been heavily involved and supportive of labor unions. This is because of the blue-collar beginnings of the mob bosses. They also saw an opportunity to make money via intimidation and blackmail tactics.

I must ask why modern Vegas and Atlantic City are so anti-labor unions within their organizations?

Screenshot From the Movie Casino

The answer is simple.

Vegas and its sister cities have become corporate entities. They have tried their best to shed their criminal past (or the Hollywood movie portrayal).

Vegas sold out.

We have seen Vegas (in particular) become a consumer based happy place.

It has lost its roots of a pull yourself (and your employees) up by your bootstraps place.

Gambling has never been a main street past time. I don’t think the casinos should be either. Especially at the expense of the employees who clean up after us, serve us, deal to us, or check us into our room.

In the 1990s, Vegas tried and failed to become more family friendly.

You know who does family good times?

Disney.

Six Flags.

Busch Gardens.

These establishments are more interested in the portrayal of a “perfect” time than Jim’s pension or Jane’s HMO plan.

History of American Mobs and Unions

The Mob, or American Mafia, indoctrinated itself with the labor unions in New York City. They did this because their end goal is to make money — a lot of money.

By controlling labor unions, they were able to be involved in huge construction projects, under the table payouts to hire their “guys”, and control the money flowing in and out of said unions.

Some historians believe that the New York Mob was involved in the majority of all big construction projects the took place in the city from the 20s to very recent history.

Thar’s big.

See The Sopranos.

The Mafia would gain control of the union giving them full control of that industry. You can see how this would be a problem with such a highly regulated industry like gambling and casinos.

If the mob could get its people in on the ground floor, they could essentially control the higher ups (looking at you casino owners) by halting work and construction and even extorting money from the casinos.

When the casinos began cleanup of their notorious past of corruption, they pushed out the mob-controlled labor unions.  The “clean up” of Vegas resulted in leaving the casino industry staff with no one to advocate for their needs and demands.

You can see the conundrum that this has caused for the casino employees and the corporations that now own Vegas and Atlantic City.

The Mafia has been pushed out of most American labor unions as they realized that this is not the way to do business or stay on the up and up with the employers their members work for.

Lesson learned.

Mind who you get in bed with, as they say.

Current Casino Labor Unions and the Mega Casinos

I’ve already expressed my disappointment in the Vegas whitewashing of gambling.

You can’t even walk on to a casino floor if you’re not at least 18 years old.

Why are we trying to attract families?

Casinos are for adults.

Bars are for adults.

Let’s keep gambling where it belongs.

When mega casinos became multi-national corporations, they lost touch with their employees’ needs.

Let’s talk about the changes Jim and Jane have seen as employees at corporate casinos.

Las Vegas casino workers for some of the largest gaming employers in the world have been battling the recognition of their union. Workers that have been involved in union activities have been let go for no reason other than Nevada is a hire at will state (hire at will means you can be let go from your position for no other reason than your services are no longer needed).

Other challenges stem from union rules not being recognized by the casino. Other workers have experienced labor laws being violated once the casino management is aware that said worker is a union member.

This put casino workers in a bind.

Do they join a union and fight for their rights?

Do they become a cog in the corporate wheel that runs Vegas and Atlantic City?

It’s unfortunate that casino workers can’t join a labor union without the fear of being ostracized or even fired. The New Deal ushered in an era of workers being treated and paid fairly by the employers.

Unions are like a elected office position. They are there for their constituents to make sure their best interest is seen to.

Somewhere in modern American casinos have pushed labor unions for casino workers to the side.

What’s even more interesting is that other unions have great relationships with the casino owners.

The Teamsters, the labor union that represents the employees that transport and move products around our country, have stayed in good standing with the casinos.

It’s most likely because of their size and pollical power. You don’t want to mess this bunch. They are strong and will not be ignored.

What About Casinos on Native Lands?

America’s largest casino, and the world’s, is WinStar. It is in Thackerville, OK.

They have a storied past with labor unions as well.

If you Google “WinStar and Labor Unions” you will find hundreds of results about the past disputes between this huge casino and its unions.

Casino Floor of the Winstar World Casino

The most current article is from 2016.

You do the math.

Native lands casinos have traditionally been more willing to work with and recognize labor unions at their casinos. Casinos owned and operated by native tribes in California have seen great success in working with the labor unions instead of fighting with them.

I don’t know if this is because, unfortunately, native people in this country have been marginalized and understand the feeling.

Or, maybe it’s just easier than fighting the labor unions. Fighting labor unions brings up contract disputes, walk outs, or strikes.

Conclusion

Labor unions and casinos will always be a continuous issue for the gambling industry. This is a money driven environment. Employees want livable pay, and the casino has to report earnings to its board.

I would love to hear your comments and questions. Please feel free to leave a comment below.