The NLRB Is Testing Out a New Tool to Stop Union Busting

This week, the NLRB handed down its first Cemex order against Station Casinos in Las Vegas, which engaged in heavy-handed union busting before workers lost a vote to unionize. The ruling may force the casino chain to bargain with the union anyway.

Supporters of the Culinary Workers Union carry picket signs outside of the Four Queens Casino in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 2, 2024. (Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images)

When workers at three Station Casinos properties in Las Vegas, Nevada — the Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa, the Boulder Station Hotel & Casino, and the Palace Station Hotel & Casino — started organizing to join the Culinary Workers Union in 2019, Station Casinos management kicked off a heavy-handed union-busting campaign. Now, thanks to a first-of-its-kind National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling, the casino chain may be forced to recognize a union despite its workers not having won a union election.

According to the National Labor Relations Board earlier this week, managers engaged in “serious pervasive unlawful misconduct,” including, most colorfully, serving hundreds of Station workers free steaks branded with the words “VOTE NO!” That incident took place two days before the workers voted in an NLRB union election in 2019: the result was 627 to 534 against joining the Culinary Workers Union. According to the board, the company did this because the quality of food served to workers was a major concern among employees. The NLRB found that the company’s misconduct began well before the NLRB vote and continued for months following it.

“The whole record reflects that [Station Casinos’] extensive coercive and unlawful misconduct stemmed from a carefully crafted corporate strategy intentionally designed at every step to interfere with employees’ free choice whether or not to select the Union as their collective-bargaining representative,” the board members wrote this week in their decision on the case, which involves sixteen unfair labor practice (ULP) charges filed by the union. “The centerpiece of [Station Casinos’] unlawful campaign was its tripart message promising and granting employees tremendous new benefits without the Union, threatening to withhold or withdraw these benefits if employees selected the Union, and implicitly threatening that selecting the Union could only lead to years of fruitless bargaining without any improvement to working conditions.”

In its decision, the board issued Station Casinos its first-ever Cemex bargaining order, making the Las Vegas dispute the test case for a tool the board hopes will discourage employers from breaking the law; currently, there are few deterrents to such criminality on the boss’s part. The Cemex order’s name comes from a 2023 case against a building materials company, and it applies in cases where an employer’s lawbreaking during a union organizing campaign is severe enough to necessitate rerunning an NLRB election.

The process is as follows: if workers request their employer voluntarily recognize their union and the boss instead petitions the board for an election, only to then violate labor laws during the campaign, rather than rerunning the election — a protracted process that can stall a union’s momentum — a Cemex order requires the employer to recognize the union regardless of the election outcome, compelling them to begin contract negotiations.

In addition to the Cemex order, the NLRB ordered Station Casinos to remove workers’ photos from an anti-union website created by the company, as well as to reinstate with back pay a pro-union worker who had been fired, finding that the reasons given for her termination “were a pretext devised or directed by senior executives to ensure that there would be fewer union leaders in the voting unit in the event that a new election was ordered.”

Station Casinos can appeal the decision to federal court and challenge the order to bargain with the union. In a statement to the Huffington Post, the company said it was reviewing the decision.

There are a number of other candidates for Cemex orders in the works: workers at a Trader Joe’s location in Manhattan want one too, for instance. And there are other cases coming down the pike: the Teamsters have increased the intensity of their efforts to organize with Amazon workers as well as the armies of subcontracted drivers who deliver the company’s packages to customers’ doors. In the case of the latter, workers want Amazon to be classified as a joint employer and consequently forced to bargain a contract with them. Should they request voluntary recognition as they unionize, forcing their employers to petition the board for formal elections only for Amazon to then retaliate, the board could issue a Cemex order.

None of this has been tested, and Station Casinos’ owners, brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, have proven willing to resist their workers’ demands — their properties are among the few holdouts in Las Vegas’s heavily unionized casino and hotel industry. In other words, we now have a new test of just how far employers are willing to go to challenge not only their workers, but the board itself.