A labor dispute of cartoonish proportions is unfolding in Las Vegas, pitting two casino billionaires backing Trump against one of the largest private union campaigns in the country.

Brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta have been ordered to testify about allegations that their gaming company, Station Casinos, has blatantly tried to undermine organizing efforts. This is just the latest chapter in a complex saga that has been going on for a decade. An administrative lawsuit regarding some of the claims is pending before a judge of the National Labor Relations Board.

The Fertittas are best known for Ultimate Fighting Championship – the mixed martial arts promoter they sold for over $ 4 billion in 2016 – and for donating millions of dollars to Donald Trump and his money machine. black, America First Action. Much of their wealth, however, lies in a gambling operation founded by their father, which is now the subject of anti-union allegations.

“It’s amazing that you bring the most senior person in the company [to testify]”said Bill Werner, associate professor at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, who studies industrial disputes.” What the union says: The Fertittas made this decision.

The lawsuit follows a scathing opinion issued by a federal judge in July, which ordered Station to begin negotiating a contract with around 1,350 culinary workers in a contested 2019 union vote at the Red Rock Resort.

In the run-up to the vote, Station said it would give employees new benefits, including a pension plan, reduced health contributions and a medical center, according to court documents. The union eventually lost the right to organize by a margin of 627 to 534.

“Red Rock’s offer of benefits was a characteristic violation,” Judge Gloria Navarro wrote in her opinion. “Many employees admitted that they did not vote for the union because they feared losing the new health care and 401 (k) benefits Red Rock had just promised.”

A 2019 union vote at the Red Rock Resort is at the center of the legal drama.

Ethan Miller / Getty

Adam Christian, a union supporter who has been a waiter at one of Station’s properties for 15 years, believes many of his colleagues were intimidated into voting no.

“They decided to throw the kitchen sink on everyone and not even give us detailed information so that they could even vote knowingly,” he says. “I just want to be treated fairly by a company and have something in writing.” Christian claims the casino stopped letting him serve Frank Fertitta’s meals once he started wearing a union button on his shirt, even when the billionaire was sitting in his section.

A spokesperson for Station Casinos denies that the new benefits are tied to the union campaign, saying he made “changes before even knowing there would be an election.” In an appeal against the July ruling, the company called the ruling “not only unjust, but also unprecedented.”

The Fertittas are likely to challenge the order to testify until the last moment, Werner says. In the meantime, the supervisors of their casinos choose their side.

Last month dozens of managers arrived at union offices wearing matching shirts and chanting, “We despise union lies. Most were not even eligible to join the unit.

“In our nearly nine decades of organizing, Union Culinaire has never seen business leaders or supervisors picketing, especially on their day off when it’s 99 degrees outside,” Union secretary-treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline said in a statement. declaration. “We hope they stay hydrated and cool.”

Union activity at Station Casinos boiled for a decade, in part because of a history of difficult workplace practices, some employees say.

Steve Bailey, a hunter at Red Rock Casino, says he was forced to skip breaks when he started in the business 14 years ago. It also bristled at other policies, including the requirement that on-call workers be available 24 hours a day should managers decide to summon them to work.

“If you didn’t answer that call within five minutes, it was considered a refusal,” says Bailey. Three refusals resulted in automatic dismissal, he said. “I was so scared of missing a call that I put my phone in a plastic bag… and took it with me in the shower. “

Bailey also claims that employees have come under pressure to organize private events for the Fertitta family, and that managers have sometimes used surveillance tapes to nitpick job performance. There is little recourse, he says, when asking employees to perform tasks outside of their job descriptions.

As an example, Bailey was recently asked to drive a player to another property, he said. He resisted because he lacked formal training, and finally said no, but worried about the repercussions: “I felt my job was in danger,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Station said that “Culinary Union has a strained relationship with top-down truth. The very small number of our employees who have complained usually have an agenda. “

The tumultuous years haven’t hampered the financial success of the Fertittas, including the UFC’s massive sell-off five years ago.

The brothers had bought the Fight Promoter for just $ 2 million in 2001 after becoming addicted to martial arts while taking classes in the basement of one of their casinos.

“What makes the UFC so great,” said Lorenzo Fertitta Forbes in 2008, “is that every man on the planet gets it immediately. It’s just two guys fighting each other.

Previously, gambling was the real family profession. The father of the Fertittas, also named Frank, founded Station Casinos in 1976, and it has grown to specialize in properties off the main Vegas Strip, catering to locals rather than villainous tourists.

Lorenzo Fertitta, left, and his brother Frank, right, with artist Damien Hirst at the Palms Casino Resort in 2018.

David Becker / Getty

The company is technically still private, although part of it is owned by Red Rock Resorts, a publicly traded company that the Fertittas control. Red Rock’s stock has more than six-fold since the start of the pandemic – when it suffered a staggering plunge – and is now worth more than $ 5 billion, a record high. Each Fertitta brother is personally worth $ 2.7 billion, Forbes estimates.

The brothers did not hesitate with this money.

At the end of August, Lorenzo’s 285-foot mega-yacht, Lonian, caused a stir when it docked off the coast of Newport Beach; some locals believed it was a warship. Lonian, which cost a reported 160 million dollars, has a glass bottom swimming pool and a helipad. He even travels with his own special friend, a 217-foot support yacht called Hodor equipped with a spare helipad and additional equipment.

Frank is known to splash too. Her daughter’s wedding in 2018 is said to have cost $ 25 million, thanks to a more than two-story cake, a dazzling amount of crystal, and entertainment lineup including Seal, John Mayer and Bruno Mars. According to Journal, Event staff were invited sign non-disclosure agreements.

As for the labor dispute, the ongoing trial is unlikely to end the war, as the Fertittas could easily prolong the fight for a decade or more.

“All of this will be resolved when the Culinary Syndicate has a contract with every property in the resort,” Werner, a professor at the University of Nevada, said of a slice of the battle. “I predict that will never happen.”

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