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Unions team up for large Vegas immigration rally

Hannah Dreier, Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Immigration activists in Las Vegas are hoping to capitalize on the momentum President Barack Obama brought when he spoke on the topic here last month.

Two unions teamed up Monday to hold a rally at the Cashman Center convention hall in North Las Vegas in support of a major immigration overhaul.

The Culinary Union drew about 1,000 hotel workers to the convention center in the morning to discuss contract negotiations at several mega-casinos on the Strip, Spokeswoman Yvanna Cancela said.

Around noon, the Nevada State AFL-CIO brought those workers together with students, immigration advocates and labor leaders for an hour-long demonstration.

One of the nation's largest unions, the AFL-CIO has scheduled rallies in 14 cities to encourage Congress to approve comprehensive reform. The push began in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday and will continue through March in cities including San Francisco, Atlanta, Miami and New York.

The federation has pledged to educate voters and pressure elected officials using the same infrastructure that helped re-elect Obama.

In Nevada, the second stop on the tour, the Latino voting population has been growing and coalescing into a formidable battleground state voting bloc.

In January, Obama spoke at a Las Vegas high school during a campaign-style event to launch his immigration reform effort.

Nevada AFL-CIO spokeswoman Emmelle Israel said the speech showed that immigrants are amassing power in the Silver State.

"It's a really important state for comprehensive immigration reform, as we saw with President Obama's visit last month," she said. "We've seen here in Nevada the political power that immigrant communities are building."

Latinos now make up more than a quarter of the Nevada population. Illegal immigrants account for 7 percent of residents, more than any other state, and 10 percent of the workforce, according to a 2011 Pew Hispanic Center study.

The White House confirmed on Monday that a 20-year old student from Las Vegas who is an illegal immigrant will be among the guests invited to Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

Unions across the country are supporting a path to citizenship for the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, saying the change will lead to better wages and working conditions.

Among the strongest of Nevada's labor organizations is Culinary Workers Local 226, a fast-growing union made up of predominantly immigrant hotel and casino employees.

The union is preparing to negotiate new contracts in June with MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corporation, which, combined, manage more than a dozen major casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, including Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood , the MGM Grand and the Bellagio.

The union's 2007 contract, which also includes downtown casinos, stipulates health and retirement benefits, wages, and job security mandates.


Hannah Dreier can be reached at https://twitter.com/hannahdreier