Casino Surveillance Technicians Cannot Unionize with Nonguards

By Charles Thompson August 30, 2017
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Casino Surveillance Technicians Cannot Unionize with Nonguards

​In Las Vegas, "everybody's gotta watch everybody else. Since the players are looking to beat the casino, the dealers are watching the players. The boxmen are watching the dealers. The floormen are watching the boxmen. The pit bosses are watching the floormen. The shift bosses are watching the pit bosses. The casino manager is watching the shift bosses. I'm watching the casino manager. And the eye in the sky is watching us all."

So began a recent opinion from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The quote comes from Martin Scorsese's movie "Casino." Obviously, Judge Karen Henderson, author of the opinion, is a fan. However, the quote is quite fitting, as it captures the facts of the case and the rationale for the court's decision.

The case involved the question of whether surveillance technicians could be part of the same bargaining unit as other employees in the MGM casinos in Las Vegas, including Bellagio and The Mirage. The D.C. Circuit ruled that the technicians are guards who can be represented only by an all-guard union, not with other employees.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What can management do during a union campaign?]

Under fairly well-established National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) precedent, security staff cannot be in the same unit as the employees whom they might be called upon to investigate. This principal is rooted in the common sense idea that the dogs who guard the hen house shouldn't be members of the foxes' club.

The NLRB took the view that the surveillance technicians did not fit within the traditional role of guard because they didn't carry guns, do rounds, or confront cheaters or thieves.

Henderson, however, in writing for the court, held that the board ignored the reality that the technicians were essential to the entire security function of the casinos. Technicians set up cameras for "special operations" that might focus on fellow employees. They also were required to locate archived video, and they maintained and installed a vast and sophisticated system of monitoring equipment. The court chastised the board for taking a traditional view of the word "guard," which ignored the modern development of sophisticated security systems that some employers maintain.

Bellagio v. NLRB, D.C. Cir., No. 16-1191 (July 18, 2017).

Professional Pointer: The decision has important ramifications when it comes to determining the bargaining unit in a union-organized workplace or one in which an organizing effort is initiated. Any employer with an integral security system should consider whether employees who are a part of that system, such as technicians, should be part of the unit. Other employers to whom this decision might clearly apply include those in the fields of banking, museums, security and computers.

Charles Thompson is an attorney with Malone, Thompson, Summers & Ott, the Worklaw® Network member firm in Columbia, S.C.

 

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