Workers want Agua Caliente to provide better benefits, wages
The 25 people sitting in the middle of Calle Encilia in front of the Spa Resort Casino smiled and waved to supporters as one by one they were arrested.
Nearly 300 casino employees and their supporters took to the street in a staged noon-day protest Thursday, asking for more worker protections, better health benefits and pay increases to be put in place by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
The tribe owns the slotmachines.it Casino in downtown Palm Springs and the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage.
“We shall not be moved,” the protesters chanted.
They included Dolores Huerta, civil rights leader and co-founder of the United Farm Workers.
“Im here today to do a peaceful demonstration to try and reach the hearts and minds of the owners of the spa and governor,” Huerta said.
Huerta led the protest, which started with a rally at Our Lady of Solitude Church on West Alejo Road near the corner of Palm Canyon Drive.
While the protest may have caught casino patrons, neighborhood residents and business owners off guard, the police were prepared.
Protest organizers met with the police department beforehand and discussed the demonstration, Palm Springs police Sgt. Dennis Graham said.
The rally went off peacefully, Graham said.
“They stuck to the plan,” he added.
In front of the casino, the gathering cheered on the protesters as they were taken to the Palm Springs jail for their act of civil disobedience.
Police officers arrested each protester and gave them a citation for misdemeanor unlawful assembly, said Graham.
Those arrested are scheduled to appear at the Larson Justice Center in Indio on June 10.
Casino employees have alleged they have been harassed and intimidated when discussing forming an employee union.
“Im tired of seeing a lot of my co-workers go to work in fear,” Spa Resort employee Sajid Roman, 31, said at the protest.
Wally Leydelmeyer, 61, of Banning was one of the protesters who was arrested.
Leydelmeyer had worked at the Agua Caliente Casino for nearly three years before quitting.
He claims he was a victim of age discrimination and that he was passed up for a job he was promised.
When he complained, he said, his supervisors did nothing and he alleges younger employees were promoted.
The former Air Force radar technician claims there are no checks and balances to protect the casino workers.
“Its a self-policing system,” Leydelmeyer said. A union is the only thing that can protect the workers, he added.
Ray Brown, a spokesman for the Agua Caliente tribe, denied the allegations. The tribe abides by state and federal labor laws outlined in its 1995 compact agreement with the state to operate its two casinos, he said.
Jennifer Skurnik, an organizer with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, said the protest brought attention to the casino employees concerns.
The union is attempting to organize workers at the Agua Caliente tribes two casinos and recently brought a successful petition against the tribe to allow casino workers to post pro-union fliers in employee break rooms.
Skurnik credited the police department for its handling of the protest.
“We appreciate the professionalism of the police,” she said.
As protesters began to leave the casino and head back to the church, the Elguera family took in the scene.
Dolores Elguera, 47, and her husband Manuel, 74 watched the protest with their daughters Magadalena, 14 and Guadalupe, 12.
Dolores Elguera of Palm Springs, said in Spanish that she wanted her daughters to see the protest for themselves.
If casino employees arent happy with their benefits, then they have a right to ask for better ones, Manuel Elguera said in Spanish.
“I think its good,” Magdalena said of the protest.
“Everybody deserves the same rights,” she said. “They work there. They should get benefits.”