Trump and the Culinary Workers Union Butt Heads

Hotel fails in effort to prevent employees from unionizing.

Culinary-Union-226_WEBDonald Trump’s presidential campaign has struggled with messaging and dips in the polls lately. But even if he gets a bounce that bungees him into the White House, 2016 has already handed Trump one defeat, as the businessman has failed in his efforts to keep employees at his Las Vegas hotel from unionizing. (Trump Las Vegas is co-owned by Phil Ruffin.)

“The federal government dismissed the hotel’s last appeal, so we’re a certified union hotel and it’s time to negotiate a contract,” says Bethany Khan, director of communications of Culinary Workers Union Local 226. “The federal government certified unionization, and every attempt they’ve made to block or object to it has been totally overruled.” As Trump Hotel housekeeper Carmen Llahrull says, “We go to court and we win, we win, we win.”

The conflict began in 2015, when some employees began discussing unionization: Among complaints about benefits and health care was the fact that Trump hotel workers are paid $3 less than hour than those with similar jobs who belong to a union. “We want to be part of this company. We want to be treated with respect and dignity,” Llahrull says.“Right now we are like second-class employees.”

As workers began to campaign for the union, the Trump property became the focus of frequent protests, often drawing the support of Democratic political figures from Nevada congressional candidate Ruben Kihuen to Hillary Clinton. Within the building, there were charges that pro-union employees were subjected to what Khan describes as a “hostile work environment”; a recent court case awarded more than $11,000 in back pay to two workers who suffered retaliation for their activities.

In December, Trump hotel employees voted to be represented by the Culinary Workers Union/Bartenders Union. The hotel appealed, but last month the National Labor Relations Board upheld the union and instructed management to come to the table. Khan says that the union “sent [management] a letter asking for a negotiation date and they haven’t responded.” She adds, “He’s afraid to negotiate with housekeepers. This is the man running as a great negotiator?”
“My message to Mr. Trump is this: If you want to make America great again, start right here with us, with the workers here in Las Vegas,” Llahrull says. It’s a message that may get louder: The Culinary Union has a large membership among immigrants and Latinos, two groups Trump has often offended on the campaign trail. Both groups are highly represented in our state and are seeing spikes in voter registration. This may not be the only loss they—and Nevada—deal to Trump in 2016.