Donald Trump says he treats his employees "really good with health care" — so we asked them if it was true

Employees at a Trump's hotels in Las Vegas open up about the complicated realities of working for the billionaire

Published March 11, 2016 10:59AM (EST)


Brand icon and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump boasts that he provides good health insurance to his employees. I mean, really good health insuranceAfter all, everything Trump touches turns to great. “They don't have to worry about ‘Obamacare,’ my people,” Trump recently said. “I treat them really good with health care. It's a very important thing.”

And that does appear to be true for some Trump workers. But only if you’re full-time. Part-time employees at the 64-story Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas like Alma Zamarin aren’t eligible for the health plan.

“I don’t have no healthcare,” says Zamarin, 55, who says she makes $9.71 plus tips delivering room service. “I don't have no insurance. Because I'm only on call.”

Zamarin says she has been on call for nearly six years, passed over for full-time jobs time and again thanks to a manager’s discrimination and favoritism. She says that she desperately needs the insurance to treat injuries sustained in a car accident that left her with a metal rod in her spine and neck. She takes pain medication every day.

It’s unclear how many workers at the hotel and condominium, where the exterior windows are gilded with 24-carat gold, work part-time. Neither the Trump Organization nor Donald Trump’s campaign responded to repeated requests for comment. But Zamarin and her co-worker Miguel Funes say that multiple other workers in room service are on call.

“They don’t want to give the opportunity to everybody to be full-time because that’s going to be money out of their pockets,” says Funes, 38, who like other workers interviewed for this story support the union campaign.

In December, hotel workers voted to join the powerful Culinary Workers Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165, though management has fought to overturn the results. The Culinary tells Salon that it doesn’t know how many workers are on call because it hasn’t received detailed information from the hotel. But it believes that the number is large.

“A union contract provides for job security, good health benefits, and fair wages,” according to a statement emailed by Culinary spokesperson Bethany Khan. “Mr. Trump says he wants to make America great again - he has a great opportunity to start right here in Las Vegas at his hotel. His employees are eager to start contract negotiations, especially after Trump Toronto employees got a deal signed in one month. If he can negotiate in Canada, surely 'The Great Negotiator’ can make a deal in the USA as well.”

The Trump Hotel’s insurance is pretty good, according to Paul Fronstin, director of the Health Research and Education Program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute. He reviewed a copy of the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas health benefits guide that the union provided to Salon.

“The premiums are below average,” says Fronstin. “Some might consider this a Cadillac plan.”

The union, however, says that it has a superior plan—and it includes no monthly premiums. Fronstin, from what he reviewed, agrees.

“The union plan looks like a better plan,” emails Fronstin. “I don’t see any deductibles. The co-payments are slightly lower than in the non-union plans. PCP and specialist copays are lower in the union plan.”

The Culinary says that all employees, including those working part-time, would qualify for its health insurance plan under a union contract. They also say that a union would institute a seniority system, doing away with the favoritism of which Zamarin complains.

It’s unclear why Trump provides decent insurance in Las Vegas or what sort of plans he offers elsewhere. After all, at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, locals appear to have been consistently passed over in favor of migrant guest workers as part of a highly exploited and exploitative federal program. And according to Bloomberg, the 401(k) program he offers is horrible. One major reason for his relative beneficence in Las Vegas might be that non-union employers in heavily unionized areas are often incentivized to match union wages and benefits.

“Wages and benefits are significantly higher among non-union hotel-casino workers in cities like Las Vegas, where there is a strong union presence,” emails Jeff Waddoups, an economist at University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Lee Business School. “Two things help explain such a result.  Non-union firms put a value on remaining non-union (think the Venetian, for example), and in order to reduce the likelihood that workers will be interested in organizing a union, the firm pays something close to union scale wages. Also, the non-union sector wants to attract high-quality workers, and if they are paying too much less than union-scale, they will not be able to.”

According to the Culinary, the Trump International Hostel still pays $3.33 less per hour, including benefits, than what prevails in the Strip’s union shops.

Karla Menjivar, 37, says she has worked as a housekeeper for six months but only works part-time and on call.

“We don’t have health insurance,” she says. “We have to pay…It’s very difficult.” She says that she wants a union so that management “respects seniority” and that “they make us full-time.”

Trump has staked his bid for the presidency on the idea that his business savvy will Make America Great Again—in part based on how he treats his workers. But the Las Vegas hotel workers I spoke to don’t think that he's doing such a great job. Zamarin says that if she could talk to Trump, she would remind him that labor is the source of a good customer experience. And of his wealth.

“I would tell him that he should take care of us and give us good health benefits” and that he needs to “hire more people so that we can do our job and serve the guests,” says Zamarin. “Because that's how he's making his money.”

By Daniel Denvir

Daniel Denvir is a writer at Salon covering criminal justice, policing, education, inequality and politics. You can follow him at Twitter @DanielDenvir.

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Donald Trump Elections 2016 Gop Primary Health Care Labor Obamacare Unions