We’ll be back’: California union joins Culinary in latest protest of Cosmopolitan

/ Las Vegas Sun

California School Employees Association, in blue t-shirts, in town for a convention, join Culinary workers to picket the Cosmopolitan Wednesday, July 31, 2013.

Cosmopolitan Culinary Protest - July 31, 2013

Cosmopolitan housekeeper Janet Nunez speaks as the California School Employees Association, in town for a convention, join Culinary workers to picket the Cosmopolitan Wednesday, July 31, 2013. Launch slideshow »

The rowdy sea of red and blue flooded a short stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard.

And the wave of picket signs rolled in front of the Cosmopolitan Wednesday, when about 3,000 workers from the Culinary Union and California School Employees Association rallied together in solidarity for the 2,000 hospitality workers who have been clocking into the Strip resort without a contract for two years.

The protest was the Culinary's fourth organized attack on the Cosmopolitan since January. Union leaders made one thing clear: the fight is long from over.

"We're going to come back and back and back and back and back and back and back," yelled the Culinary's miked President Geoconda Arguello-Kline from the back of a pickup truck, starting a chant among the crowd.

Negotiations have stalled between the Culinary — which represents about 55,000 bartenders, maids and food servers along the Strip — and Cosmopolitan, unable to agree on what's called a successorship clause — a guarantee that the Culinary's contract would carry over if new ownership took over the resort. Now owned by Deutsche Bank, the Cosmopolitan has financially struggled since it opened in 2010.

"It's been hard," said George Sproule, a 31-year-old mixologist who has been working without a contract at the Cosmopolitan since it opened. "We have made progress, but we still have a long way to go."

But Sproule said he felt encouraged knowing the Culinary had some help this time out.

While the protests have been typically defined by the Culinary's red shirts, their help came in a different color. About 1,500 blue-shirted CSEA members joined the rally just before 5:30 p.m., blocking Las Vegas Boulevard as throngs of workers crossed the street and blended with the Culinary. Metro Police had already constricted the boulevard to one lane, standing guard on horseback and in squad cars, but welcomed the school union to join.

"We've had a long, enduring relationship with are brothers and sisters of the Culinary," said Ben Gamboa, 30, a research analyst with a community college in California. "The Cosmopolitan advertises itself as a world-class employer, but a world-class employer would treat their employees a lot better."

Click to enlarge photo

Members of the California School Employees Association — clad in blue — protest outside the Cosmopolitan, Wednesday, July 31, 2013.

The Culinary's relationship with the CSEA stems from 1987, when the two organizations stood in a strike outside the Union Plaza Hotel.

“Unions standing together in times of need is what built the labor movement," said CSEA President Allan Clark. "We will continue to help our brothers and sisters when we come to Nevada because their fight is our fight.”

The last six months have been particularly contentious for the Cosmopolitan, pressured to sign a solid deal with the Culinary, which seeks health insurance, 40-hour workweeks and job security.

The union is currently negotiating with MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corp. Bosses at both MGM and Caesars have avoided protests by extending their contracts with the Culinary. The old contracts expired June 1.

Cosmopolitan officials said they were prepared for the rally.

“The Cosmopolitan management has been in ongoing talks with the union and continues to negotiate in good faith," Cosmopolitan management said in a statement. "As always, our highest priority is the safety and comfort of our guests and CoStars and we will continue to work with the authorities.”

Around 6 p.m. Culinary outreach coordinator Ian Collins picked up an acoustic guitar and sang a handful of songs to the crowd. One was called "We shall not be moved," a union fight song.

"And if the boss gets in the way, we're gonna roll right over them ..." Collins sang, the crowd singing along. "... and if the Cosmo gets in our way, we're gonna roll right over them, we're gonna roll right over them!"

And just before 6:30 p.m., the sea of red and blue left the boulevard with the Culinary's signature chant, one that's continuously held true:

"We'll be back! We'll be back!"