Last month on the campaign trail, Donald Trump called it a “great honor” that workers at the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas had thus far declined to unionize. “They love me,” he said.
But workers were signaling otherwise. That very day, Latino staffers protesting at the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas were using his harsh stance on immigrants to galvanize a majority-Latino workforce to join the Culinary Union, one of the most powerful entities in Nevada politics.
“If Mr Trump wants to make America great again, he should start here,” workers shouted.
In protests, Spanish language radio ads, press releases, and Facebook videos, organizers are highlighting Trump Hotel employees’ own immigrant stories, and channeling the Nevada Latino worker community’s outrage at the GOP presidential frontrunner into political and union engagement by a population that makes up the bulk of Trump’s Las Vegas hotel employees – and a powerful swing state voting bloc.
“Eighty percent of Trump [culinary] employees are Latino,” Carmen Harull, a Trump Hotel housekeeper from Argentina, told the Guardian. “He is very wrong to say that we’re criminals and drug addicts. We are people who work hard for our families.”
“The idea is to draw on the momentum Trump’s campaign’s has activated within the Latino community,” said the Culinary Union’s political director, Yvanna Cancela. “People are realizing that if they don’t engage on issues like worker’s rights, like voting, like civic engagement, we could very well end up with someone who shares these kind of anti-immigrant sentiments in the White House, whether it’s Donald Trump or one of the other candidates.”
According to the Culinary Union, Trump Hotel employees earn $3.33 less on average than workers who do the same jobs at the Bellagio, Wynn, Caesar’s Palace, the Stratosphere and all of the other 95% of Las Vegas resorts which have organized labor representing hotel staff. In addition to better wages and benefits, organizers are demanding equal treatment and respect, an allusion to the nationalist rhetoric Trump has used throughout his campaign.
And while labor rallies are nothing new on the Las Vegas Strip, this movement is unique for the way it has been billed as a cause for all Latinos.
“Our picket lines are always lively, but people were really excited at that Trump action,” Cancela said. “There was a sentiment that we’re not just fighting for workers, we’re fighting back against someone who actively wants to destroy our community.”
In one of the union’s Spanish-language radio ads , a man representing Trump Hotel employees says: “Our work helps make America a great country … How unfortunate that we have to say what the whole world already knows: No one works harder, no one loves their families more, no one sacrifices more than us.”
On a slickly produced video of the first rally , more than 1,000 people, including Trump Hotel employees and their union sympathizers, marched to the hotel property carrying signs and megaphones. Most wore Culinary Union T-shirts, but had on housekeeping uniforms. A Spanish-speaking man named Luis Carlos, a banquet server at the hotel, reminded viewers that the US is a nation of immigrants, one of several testimonials meant to appeal to those disturbed by Trump’s xenophobic remarks.
“Some people are afraid to lose their jobs because of the action we are taking right now,” she Harull, the housekeeper from Argentina. “But most of the workers are with us. It’s going to be a success.”
Asked how the management is responding to her and her cohorts wearing unions buttons to work, Harull said, “They hate us.”
In a complaint filed to the National Labor Relations Board, the Culinary Union has documented numerous incidents of worker intimidation, threats of reprisals and withheld promotions for those engaged in union activity inside the Trump Hotel. A hearing on that complaint is scheduled for November.
Last month, when reporters asked Trump about a labor rally outside his hotel, in addition to saying “they love me,” the candidate noted that the property looked beautiful in the coverage he’d seen.
A second demonstration is scheduled for 12 October, the eve of the first Democratic debate, which is also taking place in Las Vegas. Organizers expect national media to attend and count on 2,000 protesters to show their support.
“People who are not normally engaging in the political system are all of a sudden agitated enough to take action, to go on a message board to post something against Trump, to show up to a rally and register to vote,” Cancela said. “I think we’ve effectively tapped into that.”
Even if their cause fails to resonate with Las Vegas’s Hispanic community, efforts to capitalize on Trump’s rhetoric will certainly intensify as the election nears.
“Democrats are going to do everything they can to tie the entire Republican party to the Donald Trump wing,” said David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “The thing is, no one stood up to him when that stuff came out. When he attacked John McCain people stood up,” Damore said, “but when Trump made those comments about Mexican immigrants, no Republican rebuked him.”
If those tactics succeed, then the consequences of the GOP’s apparent rightward lurch will be especially profound here. As an early primary state and a general election swing state, Nevada plays an outsized role in national elections. Hispanic voters – which make up 20% of the state’s electorate – are particularly vital because they’re known to turn elections based on enthusiasm alone. That is why Democratic candidates are already courting the Culinary Union.
Damore noted that Nevada has a significantly higher Hispanic voter turnout than Arizona and Texas – two states with similar demographics – because of its strong union presence. The Culinary Union represents 55,000 workers – housekeepers, porters, kitchen workers, cocktail waitresses and bartenders. More than half of them are Hispanic making it the largest Latino organization in Nevada.
The union promises to mobilize its rank and file for candidates who support immigration reform and worker’s rights. In the meantime, though, representatives say they’re focused on informing Latinos in Las Vegas that the fight for equal treatment and respect is also taking place on the sidewalks outside the Trump Hotel.
“This campaign is inviting people to join in their fight to have better working conditions and the same kind job security, wages, and healthcare that other workers doing these same jobs have,” said Cancela. “We are letting people know that right here in their backyard a group fighting to make Donald Trump do the right thing.”