GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump fashions himself a friend of union workers. He has bragged about having good relationships with labor unions. When the AFL-CIO recently endorsed his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, Trump claimed it was he who deserved the labor federation's coveted backing.
"I believe [union] members will be voting for me in much larger numbers than for her," Trump declared last month.
Before entering the voting booth, those union members might want to know how much money one of Trump's businesses has spent in an effort to persuade low-wage workers not to unionize.
The Culinary Workers Union recently organized housekeepers and other service workers at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. The union won the election in December -- but not without a fight from hotel owners Trump Ruffin Commercial LLC. That's a joint venture between the likely GOP nominee and casino magnate Phil Ruffin, himself a major financial backer of Trump's presidential run.
According to Labor Department disclosure forms reviewed by The Huffington Post, Trump Ruffin shelled out more than half a million dollars last year to a consulting firm that combats union organizing efforts. The money was paid from Trump Ruffin to Cruz & Associates in a series of seven payments between July and December, totaling $560,631.
Nearly $285,000 of that money was paid over the course of two weeks in December, shortly after the hotel held its union election.
Despite the heavy investment from Trump Ruffin, the union prevailed by a vote of 238 to 209. Trump Ruffin argued in a filing with the National Labor Relations Board that the union illegally swayed the vote, but a regional director for the NLRB rejected those claims. The hotel has asked that the board members in Washington review that decision. According to an NLRB spokeswoman, the board has not yet determined whether it will grant that review.
A lawyer for Trump and a campaign spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the payments. Lupe Cruz, the owner of Cruz & Associates, did not respond to a voicemail left at his office on Friday.
Cruz, himself a former union organizer, is known for his consulting work on behalf of employers battling unions. Trump Ruffin's disclosure forms listed the payments to Cruz as being for "consultation services and employee educational meetings."
Companies often enlist the services of anti-union consultants to deal with an organizing campaign. The consultants' goal is to convince enough workers that forming a union would be against their best interests so that the union eventually loses the election. Unions derisively call these consultants "union busters." Their tactics can be subtle or not so subtle. When companies retain such firms, they are required to disclose their payments in filings to the Labor Department.
While there's nothing out of the ordinary about the Trump hotel's use of labor consultants, the more than half a million dollars spent by the hotel is significant. (For perspective, another Trump enterprise -- his presidential campaign -- began the month of June with only $1.3 million on hand.) The large sum indicates just how badly hotel management wanted to keep workers from unionizing, despite Trump's public claims that he is an ally of rank-and-file workers.
The billionaire has spent much of the last week trying to align himself with the downtrodden working class, particularly by speaking out against U.S. trade pacts with other countries. Trump and much of organized labor share the perspective that these have been raw deals for the average American worker.
At different points in his campaign, Trump has also boasted that as a business owner, he's gotten along well with unions. "I've worked with unions over the years -- I've done very well with unions," he said at a town hall meeting in February. "And I have tremendous support within unions."
But the Culinary Workers Union accused management at Trump's hotel of violating labor law numerous times by allegedly retaliating against pro-union employees during the organizing campaign. The NLRB's general counsel, who acts as a kind of prosecutor, found merit in many of those charges, accusing the hotel of illegally firing one worker and intimidating others. The labor board has not yet ruled on the matter.
The bargaining unit at Trump International in Las Vegas includes more than 500 housekeepers, restaurant employees and guest services workers, many of them Latino and Filipino. The union has urged the hotel to accept the election results and start bargaining over a first contract.
“We asked the company to sit down and bargain with us back in December, and they should have,” Bethany Khan, a union spokeswoman, previously told The Huffington Post. “They’re running out of time and options to delay this.”
The union claims that housekeepers at Trump's hotel earn about $3 less per hour than housekeepers at other unionized hotels on the Vegas Strip.