Nation’s Longest-Running Strike Ends With Sale Of Casino

A family-owned hotel that has been the target of the nation’s longest-running strike was sold, paving the way for the bitter, sometimes violent walkout to end more than six years after it began.

Culinary Union leaders hailed the sale, announced Tuesday, as vindication of their efforts to get a contract for 550 workers who prepared food, served drinks and cleaned rooms at the Frontier Hotel. Kansas hotelier and industrialist Phil Ruffin bought the hotel for some $165 million from Frontier owner Margaret Elardi and her two sons, Tom and John Elardi.

“We are, of course, extremely delighted,” said John Wilhelm, secretary-treasurer of the international culinary union. “He is dedicated to making the Frontier the kind of hotel it once was on the Strip.”

The Elardis, who declined to comment, have been engaged in a battle with the union since workers walked off their jobs Sept. 21, 1991, after months of talks failed to reach agreement on a new contract. Union strikers have maintained a vigil ever since on the sidewalks surrounding the resort, which remained open using nonunion labor.

In 1993, a California couple staying at the hotel, who happened to go outside as strikers were hurling insults at the Elardis, were beaten and spit upon in an attack that was captured on Frontier videotape. The man suffered a skull fracture and other injuries, his lawyer said. Seven pickets later pleaded guilty.

The striking unions said they had reached agreement with Ruffin on a new contract, to be effective when he gets his gaming license around the end of the year.

“The Frontier was the No. 1 place on the Strip and hopefully it’s going to be that way again,” said Lilo Distler, a cocktail waitress who walked off her job after 24 years when the strike began. “You have to fight in life for what you believe in. If it takes a strike to fight, then you have to do it.”

Wilhelm said he didn’t know how many workers actually would return to jobs. He noted that some had retired, others had died and most had found other jobs.

Last year, the Las Vegas Sun quoted a former Frontier employee as saying he ran a secret squad that spied on and played dirty tricks, including placing manure where strikers were eating. The Elardis denied that.

A complaint was pending with state gaming regulators over tactics used by the family, and in May, the National Labor Relations Board declared the walkout to be the result of unfair labor practices. It found that the resort had conducted illegal surveillance, terminated workers for union activity and bargained in bad faith.

Ruffin, owner of the Ruffin Companies in Wichita, Kan., runs a dozen Marriott hotels, one with a casino in the Bahamas.

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