Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Good Jobs in Vegas that Can't Be Outsourced

A bartender, co-worker and good friend of mine once told me, that back in the 1980's, the owner of the casino where he once worked would have full-length Polaroid pictures taken (both front and profile) of all the women applying for cocktail positions while wearing the casino's uniform --- before he would personally approve any new hires. At the time, after seeing the women who worked there, I had no reason to disbelieve him.

Sex sells, and some of the uniforms (costumes?) that cocktail servers must wear can be very skimpy. If I were a woman, I would be too self-conscience to wear anything that revealing in public. Not to mention, in many of the casinos, cocktail servers were also required to wear high heels too, which I had heard, can be torture when you're on your feet for 8 hours a day.

Thankfully, as a bartender, I could wear black sneakers --- and I could wear baggy trousers, long sleeved shirts and a vest to disguise all my bodily imperfections..

Las Vegas is still a Mecca for low-skilled good paying jobs if you have the right looks. One reason is because good looks is almost a requirement for being hired for frontline positions in the casinos, especially for cocktail servers (although most of the casino bosses will never publicly admit this.)

But even if you're not blessed with good looks, elegant charm or Hollywood pizzazz, good jobs can still be had in a union Las Vegas casino (e.g. porters, dishwashers, cooks, housekeepers, etc.) They all pay well and offer good benefits, which is a rarity in this day an age for most other hourly jobs, such as at Walmart and McDonald's...or at other hotels in other parts of the country. (But this particular post is primarily about cocktail servers.)

While although age discrimination is illegal, employers use the "bona fide occupational qualifications" clause for getting around this thorny issue in the Civil Rights Act. And of course, the casino executives will never publicly admit to this. But it's a common understanding, usually impossible to prove otherwise, and has always been this way since the days of Bugsy Siegel.

In glitzy and hip Las Vegas, where it's all about image, young and pretty women are still in big demand for all types of work, such as bartenders in neighborhood bars, restaurant or nightclub hostesses, erotic dancers in gentleman clubs, hostesses and models for the many conventions, showroom entertainers and escort services --- as well as hotel/casino cocktail servers, of which most are union jobs.

Most of the hourly-paid non-management employees in the union casino/hotels are represented by the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, except for bar-backs (apprentice bartenders) and bartenders, who are represented by the Bartender's Local 65.

Let's be honest...good looks (as well as being well-groomed, well-dressed and well-spoken) has always been beneficial to landing a job. But these days, it seems that IQs are primarily in demand for the better paying jobs. And unless you have a PhD and know people high up on the ladder that can "juice you in" to that coveted job, sadly, good looks might be your only advantage (unless of course, you're applying for a construction or manufacturing job --- or are in business for yourself --- or have other special talents or skills.)

Even with a college education, you could still be working at a car wash, because there are not enough jobs to go around these days. There are too many lawyers too, so you might want to reconsidered your career choice (unless of course, your are the sharpest tool in the box or have the capital to open your own practice.)

A shapely, attractive, friendly (and sometimes buxom) 21-year-old cocktail waitress (of all national origins) with a GED can land a casino job starting out earning $10.25 an hour ($12.81 after probation) plus $150 a day in tips (on average) on the Las Vegas Strip --- and $10.59 an hour ($13.12 after probation) plus $100 a day in tips (on average) in the downtown area of Old Las Vegas. And most casinos have an employee cafeteria, so they can eat and drink for free too.

And after a short probationary period, they would also be eligible for healthcare benefits, which includes dental and vision coverage. They would also get a one week paid vacation after one year (up to 4 weeks after about 10 years). And they would also get paid sick days and a good pension plan after being vested for about 5 years. Not to mention maternity and family (FMLA) leave if needed. Union dues are $42 a month, and are deducted from their paycheck once a month --- a small price to pay for all the benefits and union job security. (Call 702.385.2131 for updates on the union contract.)

If someone would like to apply, most casinos have online applications. Also note that some casino companies own many different casinos, so applying at one may be applying at all. (Here's a list with their websites). The last time I was job searching --- and I'm estimating here --- there were about 10 major sites to apply at about 30 different casinos (but sometimes, only one position can be applied for at a second or third choices were offered.)

After completing the application, one would also have to pass a drug test and a criminal background check. But if the job applicant is in arrears for back income taxes, or has pending liens or wage garnishments, or has a DUI on their driving record, that may also limit their chances for employment. And be aware: the casinos might do a credit check too (so, just good looks alone might not help you here).

Some casinos, such as Steve Wynn's casino (where I first applied for a bartender job in 2010), might also require that applicants pass a 3rd party online psychological exam. If so, lie like hell and give them all positive and upbeat answers to all the questions asked. It doesn't pay to be honest here. I learned...I was denied a job and was told in an email to reapply in 6 months (that was the last time I applied, when their software judged me to be mentally disqualified for a busboy position.)

Also, be prepared to get a heath card (as a food handler) where you might have to watch a 4-hour movie on food safety and get a TB shot (although, that may have been discontinued). You'll also need to attend an alcohol awareness class (about a 6 hour class costing $22) to get a TAM card. And depending on the position you apply for (housekeeper, cocktail server, slot attendant, etc), you might also have to get a Sheriff's card from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (which will cost $40 to get electronically finger-printed). It could be for a gaming or non-gaming Sheriff's card, depending on the position you apply for. THIS MIGHT HAVE BEEN DISCONTINUED for cocktail servers and other non-gaming jobs. (Check METRO for more info).

For the most part, casinos have diversity and strict sexual harassment policies, so most of the time, the casinos are not hostile working environments for women or minorities. As a matter of fact, the last time I checked, one major casino had more minorities in non-management positions than was the actual demographics of the city. Part of the reason might be, to avoid discrimination lawsuits; but also because the casinos cater to visitors from all over the world. So being multilingual would also be beneficial.

As for sexual harassment, that would most likely come from the customers, rather than from a co-worker. But as with any difficult situation that is customer-related (such as if you feel they're too intoxicated, overly aggressive, or angry about something), if you don't think you can handle the situation yourself, it's sometimes better to get your supervisor or someone from security involved --- because by putting some distance between yourself and the customer in this way, you might avoid a customer complaint, which is a sure way to get yourself fired (even if your are in the right, because "the customer is always right").

To date, the Las Vegas union casinos don't practice the unfair employment policies such as hiring for "term limits" or as "independent contractors" like the Revel Casino did in Atlantic City for frontline jobs (cocktail servers, bartenders, and dealers). Although sometimes, inside the casinos, they do have 3rd party properties, such as the upscale nightclubs and restaurants that aren't affiliated with the actual hotel and/or casino --- so most likely they won't offer the better paying union jobs with benefits (although the tips might be good, the job security sucks. And they also don't hire older bartenders). Also, many casinos have a food court with a McDonald's or Taco Bell franchise, just like at a shopping mall. I would eat there, but not work there if there were other jobs available in the casino.

Cocktail Doll (Dollie)

If you are applying for a cocktail waitress server position, the jobs listed on the casino's website might say you're required to sing and dance too. They sometimes list these jobs as "bevertainers", like here at the Rio --- or as a "model-server" at a swanky nightclub (where the celebrities like to frequent).

And sometimes the casinos (but usually nightclubs) might require bartenders to "flair". By imposing more requirements, employers can further narrow down their search with additional qualifications.

* Click on the image at the left to visit Dollie's website and blog (her domain expires on November 11, 2013) and see her videos at YouTube

If you live here in Las Vegas, I would suggest printing an online version of the application (if you can), besides just submitting one to their Human Resources department. Then take a copy with you and visit the casino, sit at the bar, order a soda, and ask the bartender to page the bar manager or the Food & Beverage director to introduce yourself in person. Sometimes with thousands of job applications, yours can get buried in a heap. You'll need to stand out and attract [positive] attention to yourself. If you don't live in Las Vegas, maybe you can mail a copy of your application to the boss....with a photo, of course. And if you look like Hugh Hefner's ex-girlfriend, maybe the casino will fly you out, all expenses paid ;)

When first hired, most likely you will start out on the "extra board" --- meaning part-time and "on call" (24/7). In some cases (for some people) this is better than a regular shift. Besides the hassle of never knowing when you'll work, you tend to pick up better paying stations in the casino, as opposed to starting a regular full-time shift at the bottom of the seniority list, where tips aren't near as good. So there are some advantages and disadvantages to being "on call" as opposed to a regularly scheduled shift. But if a regular shift is what you want, then with time and seniority, when someone eventually retires, quits or gets fired, you'll move up the ranks.

As a note: Even if you are on the extra board, if you are scheduled enough hours (usually if you're nearer to the top of the list) you can still qualify for all the benefits that a regular full-time employee acquires.

The cost of living in Las Vegas isn't overly high like in many other big cities, and real estate is a bargain these days if you have cash to put down on a home. But if you do decide to work here, be prepared to work any and all shifts. You have to be flexible (Personally, I used to like being on the extra board because I liked the variety of working all the different shifts and seeing all the different people.)

One word of caution though if you ever move here and get a job....because the town is open 24 hours a day (the real city that never sleeps, not New York), you'll also have plenty of time to get in trouble.

Be careful gambling (it can be addicting). Also, the bars are open 24/7, so be careful drinking and driving too. But if you need to shop, Walmart and other stores (like 7-11 for gas, cigarettes and beer) is also open 24/7.

And be careful driving in general. People from all over the country bring their bad driving habits here too.

If you decide to make Las Vegas your home and work for a union casino, it can be a good career for someone who has "looks" but doesn't have a college degree (or even for someone who's "not all that") --- especially when only low-paying temp and part-time jobs are being offered in this economy.

My advice: Get hired while you're still young (and pretty or handsome), then stay in one casino for years to come, to get in-house seniority to avoid layoffs and to bid for the better shifts and/or better hours (when they become available). Then grow old with grace. But never drink and gamble where you work, and be careful when associating with co-workers after work (not everything stays in Vegas).

Once you get your foot in the door, the casino can't fire you for just getting old; but never get yourself fired or laid off when you do get old, because even though they will never publicly admit it, the casinos (and many other employers) prefer hiring younger men (or women) for bartender jobs and shapely, attractive, friendly (and sometimes buxom) 21-year-old women for cocktail waitresses. As one male bar manager once told to me a few years ago, "We're looking for eye candy." They would often take a recommendation from a fellow employee, saying, "Bring 'em on in and let's have a look."

But the very best part about working as a cocktail server in a union Las Vegas hotel/casino is, besides better job security (and cash tips every day), your job can NEVER be offshored to another country and you can NEVER be replaced by a robot!

Last employed in 2008

As an aside: I was laid off as a casino bartender in 2008 because I hadn't worked there long enough to avoid the mass layoff (I didn't have enough in-house seniority). The last place I applied for work was at the MGM's CenterCity, which was hiring 12,000 people. First I applied as a bartender, and was rejected. Then I applied as a barback, and was rejected again. Then I applied as a busboy, and was rejected a third time. I was competing against over 100,000 applicants from around the world, but my 20 years experience as a Las Vegas casino bartender wasn't what the casinos were looking for...I was over 50 years old.

And for all you who still don't know...NO, cocktail servers are NOT hookers. They are mothers, sisters, wives and yes --- because they have in-house seniority in a union casino, they are also grandmothers too --- so mind your manners. If you want, in the town of Pahrump in the next county over, is where you'll find the brothels --- just a 45-minute drive away (where it's actually legal).

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