The Trump International Hotel rises high above the northern edge of the Las Vegas Strip, 64 stories of windows gilded with 24-karat gold. The name, “Trump,” also in gold, shimmers at the top.
The five-star hotel offers a luxurious escape from reality. But recently hotel guests were greeted by many of the people who help make their stay so luxurious — hundreds of housekeepers, cooks and waiters rallied and picketed in front of the Trump Tower.
Among the crowd was Miguel Funes, a Trump hotel worker who was born and raised in Honduras. Funes has been in the US for 20 years and is a US citizen now. And for the last year and a half he’s delivered room service at both the Trump Tower and the Mandalay Bay, a union hotel nearby.
His hourly wage varies widely for the same job.
“$9.11 [an hour] at Trump and Mandalay Bay is $13.81, plus benefits,” Funes said. “Benefits represents being able to go to the doctor with the kids without being bankrupt and in debt.”
Besides employer-paid health insurance (workers have to pay health care deductibles for health care though Trump), Funes also has a pension with the Mandalay Bay. Employees at Trump also say they’re made to do extra work beyond their job duties.
Funes also gets an hour for lunch at his union job. Not so at Trump.
“No lunchtime. You’re able to take your 30-minutes break, and you have to clock out, out of the system. So they don’t pay you for that,” said Funes. “When you come back, you clock in again. Punch out and punch in.”
More than 95 percent of hotel workers on the Las Vegas strip and downtown are unionized. And Funes thinks the Trump hotel should get in line. He and other workers say that Trump hotel management has harassed and intimidated workers who want to unionize.
Some of Trump's properties are, in fact, unionized, and Trump has relied on union workers to build his properties. Trump also told Newsweek last year, “I have great relationships with unions.”
Funes doesn’t buy that.
“Mr. Trump says he wants to 'Make America Great Again.’ But that’s just a big lie, because he doesn't want to give his own employees what we deserve,” said Funes. “How can I believe he wants to make America great again? How? I don’t understand how.”
Miguel Funes delivers room service at the Trump hotel and the Mandalay Bay, a union property. He earns $4.50 more per hour for the same job at the union hotel.
The vast majority of the 520 service employees at The Trump Tower are immigrants like Funes. In December, they voted to unionize and join the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, Nevada’s most powerful labor organization.
The hotel company challenged the vote at the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that the union coerced workers. Trump lost.
The Trump Company is now appealing that decision. If Trump loses again, his company is legally obligated to negotiate a contract. That doesn’t mean they will though.
“If an employer is really hostile and determined to fight, they have legal routes that can keep the union from getting to the point of negotiating a contract for years and years,” said Ross Eisenbrey with the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute in Washington.
Now, normally, at this point in a story you’d hear from the other side — management explaining why unions are bad for business and growth. But Trump’s company has been avoiding the press.
Phil Ruffin, a billionaire who co-owns the Trump International Hotel, as well as the Treasure Island Resort & Casino on the Strip, turned down an interview request for this story as well. (Or rather, his PR firm did.) That’s highly unusual, said Eisenbrey.
“Usually, I have found employers and employer organizations to be more than willing to be anti-union, to talk about unions being some third party that isn’t needed, or they were needed 50 years ago but they’re not now,” Eisenbrey said. “I’m kind of surprised that there isn’t a Chamber of Commerce or somebody who would be speaking even if the Trump organization has decided that it doesn’t want to alienate union voters.”
I told Eisenbrey that The Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce also turned down my interview request.
“That’s remarkable. They [the Chambers] are blatantly, openly, happily, non-union here in Washington and almost everywhere else I’ve ever dealt with them,” Eisenbrey said.
One Republican Vegas insider said, on background, it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on: Many conservatives are afraid to say anything about Trump, either positive or negative. He's just too hot to touch right now.
Hotel worker Funes finds an irony in all of this. His boss is refusing to recognize the vote he and the other workers took — just like Republican Party bosses might disregard the votes Trump has collected leading up to the party’s convention.
“I would like to ask about him how he’s going to feel about it?” Funes said. “That’s the same way we feel. He don’t recognize that we win by election, that we want union. I would like to see his face when the Republican Party don’t recognize him as the winner for the nomination. It’s the same, you see? I think it’s God giving him a lesson right now.”
The 64-story Trump International Hotel sits near the northern edge of the Las Vegas Strip.
From PRI's The World ©2016 PRI