A federal court has ordered Red Rock Casino to immediately recognise and open negotiations with unions representing its employees, granting a rare injunction after a judge determined it “undermined the fairness” of union elections through “outrageous” benefit changes.
The dispute stems from Red Rock parent company Station Casinos’ decision to increase benefits in response to unionisation efforts across its operations during 2019 and 2020.
Amid a rise in union support across Station’s properties, including Red Rock, the operator hired Phil Fortino as its new vice president of human resources in August 2019.
Fortino presented to management a plan to improve the employee experience, while at the same time instructing managers to keep track of which employees supported, opposed or did not have an opinion on unionisation.
The operator created a plan for increased benefits such as on-site medical centers and a new health insurance plan. However, before the plan was made public, members of an umbrella group of unions including the Culinary Union filed a petition to hold an election. If a majority of the 1,350 casino employees voted in the election to recognise the union, Station would be required to hold collective bargaining talks with it.
Fortino then told chief operating officer Bob Finch that Station management “need to announce ASAP” the improved benefits. The operator quickly announced the new program, and leading up to the election, Red Rock managers and supervisors allegedly “reiterated the promised benefits to employees and the risk that promised benefits could be lost if the union succeeded”.
Senior members of Red Rock’s leadership team such as Fortino also warned that the lengthy nature of bargaining would effectively leave employees without access to improved benefits for years if the union won the election. In addition, the operator “coupled the benefits presentations with anti-union messaging”.
The union effort was defeated in the election, by 627 votes to 534.
Soon afterwards, two Red Rock staff members who had led unionisation efforts were not recalled to work after layoffs due to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, even though less senior staff were recalled.
As a result, the Culinary Union filed a complaint to the National Labour Relations Board, arguing that Station had engaged in unfair practices by promising benefits that it suggested may be contingent on union election results and that the board should therefore recognise the union.
In addition, it filed for an injunction with the United States District Court for the state of Nevada. This injunction – which may be granted if it appears the board would uphold the complaint – would require the operator to begin negotiations with the board immediately.
In deciding whether to grant an injunction, judge Gloria M Navarro determined that the timing of the rollout of new benefits alone would raise questions, but combined with other evidence, it appears clear the benefits were designed with the election in mind.
“The timing of the announcement not only raises a presumption of Red Rock’s unlawful motive, but there is substantial evidence—based upon the strategy to offer benefits derived in part to undermine the Union and the intentional rollout of benefits just before the election—indicative of the same,” she said.
“Not only does the timing raise an inference of an intent to defeat the Union in the election, but Fortino sent Station Casino’s COO a text message indicating that they needed to announce the benefits as soon as possible because of the union’s petition for election.”
As a result, she said the complaint on these grounds would likely be upheld.
In addition, the court said that many Red Rock management statements about the unionisation effort could be interpreted as threats, as the “risks” that the operator raised – such as failure for employees to receive the offered benefits if the union was successful – were matters “entirely in Red Rock’s control”.
When it came to the laid-off workers, however, the court found that the union was unlikely to win a complaint. Navarro noted that while less senior staff in other teams were recalled, the two staff members in question were part of teams where few or no employees were called back to work.
Nonetheless, having determined that the complaint would likely be upheld due to the benefit changes and alleged threats, Navarro granted the injunction.
She noted that while holding the election again may appear to be a potential remedy to the situation, Red Rock’s actions had made the possibility of a truly fair election impossible.
“Red Rock’s grant of benefits likely thwarted the Union’s majority status and was so outrageous that it undermined the fairness of future elections,” she said. “The court concludes that petitioner has shown that an interim bargaining order is the only appropriate interim remedy.”
As a result, the court ordered that Station must recognize the Culinary and Bartenders Unions as representatives for its employees and begin negotiations for union contracts immediately.
The Culinary Union noted that injunctions like the one granted are “very rare”, and this ruling marked the first time in its 86-year history that the Culinary Union has been granted such an injunction.
“We are pleased with the federal court’s extraordinary and vindicating ruling in favor of Red Rock Casino workers,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union. “We commend Red Rock Casino workers for their courage and resilience in the face of the massive anti-union campaign that Station Casinos waged against their own employees and we look forward to negotiating and winning a union contract to protect workers.”
Steve Bailey, a bellman at Red Rock Casino, said he was pleased that the Union now represents the casino’s staff.
“Over the years we have organized, walked picket lines, did delegations, had protests, and voted to unionize because we want to be treated fairly,” Bailey said. “It’s been a long journey, but getting a contract to protect my coworkers and I is worth it. Having Red Rock Casino be union means everything to us.”