JUDY WOODRUFF: The heyday of unionization
in the American work force is several decades’ old. In fact, unions are still struggling
to get more workers to join, while many companies remain opposed. But, in Nevada, there’s a case study of a
union that has broken through. And this weekend, several presidential candidates
will be participating in a town hall with those workers. Correspondent Paul Solman looks at what this
union has done differently. It’s part of our series on economics and business,
Making Sense. PAUL SOLMAN: Bathroom cleaning, kitchen prep,
bed-making, that’s the curriculum at the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, a school run by 32 casino
hotels and Local 226 of a thriving union, the Culinary Workers. Who learns what here, and why? STEVEN GREENHOUSE, Author, “Beaten Down, Worked
Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor”: A restaurant busser can who makes
$35,000 a year can take a course to become a waiter and make $60,000 a year, and then
take another course maybe to become a bartender, sommelier, and make $90,000 a year. And these
courses are free. PAUL SOLMAN: For many years, The New York
Times’ labor reporter, Steven Greenhouse, is the author of “Beaten Down, Worked Up:
The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor.” Since the 1980s, as union membership in the
private sector has plummeted by two-thirds, Local 226 has more than tripled in its membership,
to 60,000, and become a torch for the long-moribund labor movement. KATE BRONFENBRENNER, Cornell University: They’re
the model that unions should look to for representation and organizing. PAUL SOLMAN: Cornell University’s Kate Bronfenbrenner
has been studying the union for decades. KATE BRONFENBRENNER: They have the most actively
engaged membership of almost any union in the country. And they do that by involving
the membership in everything they do. LEAIN VASHON, Vice President, Culinary Workers
Union Local 226: We’re not just a union that just sits in a building and collects dues.
No, we’re not. PAUL SOLMAN: The union’s vice president, Leain
Vashon. LEAIN VASHON: The people who are downtown
at City Hall, screaming and yelling about, we want better schools, are culinary members,
we want better water, are culinary members, we want better infrastructure, culinary members. DEBRA JEFFRIES, Member, Culinary Workers Union
Local 226: We have a rank-and-file union. We’re in on negotiations. PAUL SOLMAN: Debra Jeffries has been one of
the rank-and-file for 40 years, got more involved in the mid-’80s, when she objected to her
casino’s insistence that cocktail servers like her wear high heels. DEBRA JEFFRIES: We did all the research, you
know, how many miles we walk a night. I think it was like eight to 12 miles a night in an
eight-hour shift. We lift anywhere from five- to 15-pound trays for eight hours. So we had
a meeting, and we beat the issue. PAUL SOLMAN: Thirty years later, 95 percent
of Las Vegas hotel/casinos are unionized. As for the remaining 5 percent: LEAIN VASHON: The only reason some hotels
pay the same thing is to try to prevent them from becoming union. But they still won’t
be able to compete with that because of what we offer. PAUL SOLMAN: Job security. LEAIN VASHON: Job security most of all. PAUL SOLMAN: Vashon is a bell captain at the
Paris Hotel, one of Las Vegas’ seven faux wonders of the world. As massive protests
in the real Paris have recently shown, however, workers have a lot more heft in the old countries. Steve Greenhouse was stationed in Paris for
The Times. STEVEN GREENHOUSE: Unions in Europe are much
stronger. In France, for instance, 90 percent of workers are covered by union contracts,
whereas, in the United States, only 12 percent are. PAUL SOLMAN: And in the private sector, just
6 percent. The reasons are familiar, from globalization,
which invited competition from the low-wage workers of the world, to President Ronald
Reagan, who in 1981 broke the air traffic controllers union that had supported his campaign,
firing all its striking members. RONALD REAGAN, President of the United States:
They have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated. PAUL SOLMAN: But the culinary workers bucked
the odds. GEOCONDA ARGUELLO-KLINE, Secretary Treasurer,
Culinary Workers Union Local 226: Sign, sell, or shut it down. That was our picket sign. PAUL SOLMAN: Geo Arguello-Kline, who rose
from housekeeper to head of the union, was active in the Frontier Hotel strike, which
began in 1991. And how long did the strike last? GEOCONDA ARGUELLO-KLINE: Six years, four months,
and 10 days. PAUL SOLMAN: There was a picket line 24 hours
a day… GEOCONDA ARGUELLO-KLINE: Twenty-four hours. PAUL SOLMAN: … seven days a week? GEOCONDA ARGUELLO-KLINE: Seven days a week.
And nobody crossed the picket line. People stick together, they fought, and when they
sold the place, they back to work. PAUL SOLMAN: It was the longest strike in
U.S. labor history. The union won. Years later, the Frontier was torn down, and
on part of the property, Trump International was built. It was non-union when it started. MAN: When I say union, you say power. PAUL SOLMAN: But in 2015, says Steve Greenhouse: STEVEN GREENHOUSE: The Culinary launched a
huge unionization drive against the Trump Hotel, and a majority of the workers voted
for a union. Yet Trump still wouldn’t recognize the union. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, Former U.S. Secretary
of State: I wanted to come by and lend my voice. STEVEN GREENHOUSE: Hillary Clinton even came
and joined the protest. And, finally, Trump, facing a presidential campaign, not wanting
the whole labor movement against him, sued for peace, rather than continue his war against
the union. PAUL SOLMAN: Even more striking is the union’s
success in Nevada, a right-to-work state, meaning all workers get whatever benefits
a union negotiates, without needing to join the union at all. What do you say to a worker who says, I’m
going to get the union benefits anyway, I’m not paying the dues? LEAIN VASHON: I say, God bless you. We have
still got you. And sooner or later, most of them come around. PAUL SOLMAN: And why do they come around? DEBRA JEFFRIES: Safety in the workplace, seniority,
pension, guaranteed work week. PAUL SOLMAN: But, above all, says cocktail
server Debra Jeffries: DEBRA JEFFRIES: We have a Cadillac plan, health
and welfare, that is phenomenal. We’re free of out-of-pocket costs for our medical insurance. PAUL SOLMAN: Health insurance is the main
reason why food server Tracy Gregrich helped organize the Palms Casino, newly part of the
staunchly anti-union stations chain. TRACY GREGRICH, Food Server, Palms Casino
Resort: If we have to go to the emergency room, we have to pay $1,000 out of pocket.
When you live paycheck to paycheck, that can take years to pay. PAUL SOLMAN: Workers at the Palms, recently
renovated to the tune of more than half-a-billion dollars, have voted in the union, 84 percent
of them. But the parent company is challenging the vote. TRACY GREGRICH: It’s harder and harder to
get a contract. It’s been a fight. PAUL SOLMAN: Now, let’s not romanticize unions.
Over the years, many have earned their negative reputations for corruption, especially here
when Las Vegas was built, for goldbricking, shirking on the job, for protecting unneeded
workers, a practice known as featherbedding. How am I doing? OK? But as I learned at the Culinary Academy,
you shouldn’t romanticize the work here either. This is quite physical. NANCY COR, Instructor, Culinary Academy of
Las Vegas: It is. PAUL SOLMAN: Now, is one person supposed to
do this? NANCY COR: In six minutes or less. PAUL SOLMAN: And how many beds like this would
I have to do in one shift? NANCY COR: You will have to make sometimes
30 of these beds. PAUL SOLMAN: And what happens if I don’t finish
in time? NANCY COR: You’re going to get probably a
warning, a suspension, and maybe you’re going to get terminated. PAUL SOLMAN: More challenging than the work,
though, may be the future of it in the face of technological disruption, even here in
the epitome of the service sector. LEAIN VASHON: Every job is under threat from
technology. They have got machines that are making drinks now. They have got a machine
that will deliver stuff to the rooms. I’m looking for putting information in every
contract that says, when you come up with a new technology, a union worker will be involved
in it. And you will train them to help facilitate whatever that’s going to be. PAUL SOLMAN: And, in fact, the new contracts
do include such provisions. STEVEN GREENHOUSE: The union reached a landmark
contract with Caesars in which Caesars promised to work with the union to figure out ways
to retain workers as much as possible, rather than have them replaced and bulldozed by new
technologies. PAUL SOLMAN: Admittedly, this union is not
in a decaying city or waning industry, but Las Vegas is not the only labor success story
venue these days. Look at New York, New York, the real one. STEVEN GREENHOUSE: There’s a great union in
New York that represents thousands of janitors, and window washers, and doormen, and elevator
operators. And, recently, they have added more than 10,000 airport workers. PAUL SOLMAN: Making those who work at New
York’s modern-day ports of entry a little less tired and a lot less poor, if not quite
as well-heeled as the visitors who book the Ellis Island Hospitality Suite back here in
ersatz New York. One last question. Given its success, why
don’t more unions copy Local 226? Cornell’s Kate Bronfenbrenner suspects she
knows why. KATE BRONFENBRENNER: It is a lot of work to
constantly engage the members, and involved members then want more say in the union. PAUL SOLMAN: So, involved members are a threat
to the union leadership? KATE BRONFENBRENNER: Yes. PAUL SOLMAN: And yet, says Steve Greenhouse: STEVEN GREENHOUSE: People are tired of the
income inequality. They’re tired of wage stagnation. They see Wall Street doing very well. They
see corporate profits at record levels. And we’re seeing a ton of people unionize.
We’re seeing adjunct professors, we’re seeing graduate students, we’re seeing nurses. Whether
that will be enough to turn around the decline is another question. But there’s something
really percolating now. PAUL SOLMAN: And it’s on full boil here in
Las Vegas, fantasyland for visitors, the workplace for those who serve them. This is “PBS NewsHour” correspondent Paul
Solman.

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