One thousand lost jobs

Former Flamingo workers are worried about winter

Dan Colvin worked for years to get a union contract at the Flamingo Reno.

Dan Colvin worked for years to get a union contract at the Flamingo Reno.

Photo By David Robert

When the Flamingo Reno Hotel & Casino officially closed its doors Tuesday morning, it marked the loss of more than 1,000 jobs. But it also dealt a second blow—dissolving the union for which employees had fought for years.

One such union advocate, Dan Colvin, an 11-year veteran of the company, spent much of the past decade both working as a bartender on the graveyard shift and seeking recognition for Culinary Union Local 86. After repeated talks, he and his co-workers finally gained recognition for their union in March 1999.

That was the first step. From there, Colvin, as a committee leader, was embroiled in two years of negotiations with the casino’s owners, Park Place Entertainment. Finally, in July, the workers’ dreams were realized: A first contract was in effect.

For Reno, where only two other casinos are unionized—the Reno Hilton and Circus Circus—it was a significant victory. In Las Vegas, 85 percent of the hotels are unionized.

“We have focused our attention on Las Vegas,” said Courtney Alexander, a Local 86 spokesperson. “Now we need to organize in Reno. [Unions] provide for the betterment of so many who work.”

But the thrill of the union victory is now bittersweet for these workers, who are all out of a job. Their last battle Tuesday was a plee for extended health benefits and severance packages to get them through the winter.

Park Place has granted workers the rights afforded to them through the Warn Act, which orders that workers must be paid for 60 days from the date of the closing. As things stand now, workers’ pay continues through Dec. 4, and benefits continue through Dec. 31, a Park Place spokesperson told reporters. The workers will also receive bonus pay for tips.

Some of the newly unemployed workers say it’s not enough to get them through the coming months.

“Park Place is a multi-billion dollar company,” Colvin said. “Where’s the ‘united we stand, divided we fall'? How can it be so callous to workers that have dedicated years of service?”

“We find it heartless that a $5 billion company like Park Place Entertainment would dismiss long-term employees without severance or health care,” Alexander said. “It is conduct unbecoming of an industry leader.”

The company transferred rights to employees allowing them to try for work at the Reno Hilton, but jobs are scarce, and employees aren’t having much luck.

“There are a few rotational jobs that are being filled, like cashiers,” Nadia Baer of Local 86 said. “But jobs are very hard to find, especially within the workers’ skills.”

Employees wanted a severance package based on job tenure—with three weeks severance pay for every year worked. Some 265 of the 1,000 Flamingo workers laid off had worked there for more than 10 years.

They also asked for extended health benefits to get them through the winter months when tourism typically slows.

The issue isn’t confined merely to the 1,000 workers out of a job, Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada said. The loss will affect the entire community.

“It’s not just the workers, Someone is going to have to pay for these people’s health benefits,” Fulkerson said.

For some workers, it was just hard to let go of the place they’d worked and loved for years. Scott Kearney, a four-year employee who worked at the Top of the Flamingo as a waiter, said his last day was one filled with tears.

“Sunday brunch was my last day,” Kearney said. “It was a tear-filled day. All of the locals came out and wished us well.”

Kearney, though, said that at least he has a job lined up.

“I’m going to head back to my old stomping grounds at the Glory Hole [Restaurante]. I feel I’m fortunate. I’m blessed. Others aren’t so lucky."