Bethlehem PA Feb 24 2017 Billionaire Sheldon Adelson's 29-year winning streak in keeping the world's largest casino empire free of union contracts was halted Wednesday by a bunch of security guards making $13 an hour in Bethlehem.
After nearly six years of battling one of the world's wealthiest men, security officers at Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem ratified a three-year contract by a 70-6 vote that makes them the first union workers with a contact in a Las Vegas Sands Corp. operation that has more than 50,000 employees worldwide.
The 146-member Local 522, which in December was certified as an affiliate or the International Union, Security, Police and and Fire Professionals of America, approved a deal that gives security guards immediate raises of 8 percent, a seniority structure and a greater say in work rules at the casino in south Bethlehem, International Union President David Hickey said.
They're the only unionized workers among the 2,500 at Sands in Bethlehem, and the only union members in a parent company with casinos in Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore.
"These guys are making history today," said Hickey, who heads a union with 37,000 members in five countries, as he witnessed the vote at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Bethlehem. "They've hung in there through some hard times to get here. They have a right to be proud."
This is a win that's been a long time coming for George Bonser, a recently retired Sands guard and now union consultant who ignited the effort to unionize nearly six years ago.
"The first contract is always the hardest, but we're pretty happy with what we got," Bonser said. "I knew it would take awhile, but I never thought it would take this long."
It was a surprising win against a man Forbes magazine lists as the 14th wealthiest person in the country with a fortune worth $32 billion. Since opening his first casino 29 years ago, Adelson has made no secret of his dislike for unions and he's been able to avoid them, in part by offering competitive wages and benefits to nonunion workers, but also by using his considerable wealth to fight anyone who tries to organize.
In Las Vegas, Adelson is one of the only casino owners who has been able to keep the powerful, 57,000-member culinary union out of his gambling resorts, in part by paying his workers more than union workers.
At one point, Adelson fought to keep culinary union workers from leafleting on the public sidewalk outside his flagship casino, the Venetian. When police and local courts told him he couldn't, he spent eight years appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court before giving up.
Bonser said nearly a year of negotiations were difficult, but despite the lengthy battle, Sands officials were never disrespectful to guards.
Sands officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Sands guards first voted to unionize in 2011, but the casino company appealed the decision to the National Labor Relations Board several times. In one appeal Sands attorneys argued that guards were already affiliated with United Steelworkers and later argued that guard leadership intimidated members into voting to unionize.
The case was held up for a year because President Barack Obama's 2012 appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Then in 2015, an NLRB panel in Washington, D.C., upheld a 2012 NLRB court ruling ordering Sands to recognize the guard union and to enter into bargaining sessions. Worried that the Law Enforcement Employees Benevolent Association that the guards were affiliated with at the time was too small to afford a prolonged court battle if Sands pushed the issue, the guards separated from LEEBA in 2015 and affiliated with SPFPA. Based in Roseville, Mich., SPFPA represents guards at 13 casinos in the U.S. and at many government buildings, including the White House and the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Hickey said.
With SPFPA in the driver's seat, Sands did not continue to appeal the matter and negotiations for a new contract began early last year, Bonser said.
Hickey said that with a contract in hand, elections for union officers will be held in the next month and the international union will bring trainers to Bethlehem to help the new officers organize.
A mediator from the NLRB monitored the voting Wednesday.
Most of the Sands guards are full time, making $12 to $14.50 an hour with health care benefits, Bonser said.
Hickey said the contract will give most guards raises of $1 to $1.21 per hour. The downside for workers is that they have to pay union dues equivalent to 2.5 hours in wages per month.
"But this is about more than just money," Hickey said. "For the first time, they have a voice in how their careers progress. It's no longer a take-it-or-leave-it scenario."
The Morning Call