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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz
 

Caesars dealers march on Strip

18 September 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- It's been roughly 21 months since dealers at Caesars Palace overwhelmingly voted in favor of union representation.

But the dealers and Caesars' parent Harrah's Entertainment have been unable to reach a contract agreement.

Dealers and other members of the Transport Workers Union Local 721 took their frustration to the Strip sidewalk in front of the famed hotel-casino Thursday to call attention to the lack of progress in the negotiations.

Wearing red shirts, about 600 dealers and supporters of the Transport Workers, who were holding their annual convention in Las Vegas, marched from Flamingo Road to the hotel's driveway in the afternoon heat.

"All we're trying to do is get their attention," said Ernie Acevedo, a Caesars Palace dealer for 17 years and secretary-treasurer of Local 721. "We just want what other unions have."

The New York-based Transport Workers gained representation at Caesars and Wynn Las Vegas in 2007, but has been unable to negotiate contracts at either property. A 2008 vote to represent dealers at the Rio fell short of approval.

Dealers and protesters chanted slogans and attracted attention from passers-by and interested observers. Al fresco diners at the Serendipity 3 restaurant took in the demonstration.

Joseph Carbon of the Transport Workers said other protests would be planned if negotiations continued to lag. He said the presence of other union members helped boost dealers' spirits.

Shane Kaufmann, a Caesars Palace dealer helping to negotiate the contract, says the roughly 600 dealers want conditions similar to what they had before Harrah's bought Caesars in 2005.

Kaufmann said the dealers' proposal includes control of tips and union representation during certain personnel decisions.

The union conducted a five-month organizing drive leading up to the vote in December 2007. At the time, dealers said they wanted a better channel to discuss their labor concerns with management.

Some said their concerns about pay, job security and benefits had been largely ignored after Harrah's took over the hotel-casino following its $9 billion buyout of Caesars Entertainment in June 2005.

Harrah's Vice President Marybel Batjer said the company would not comment directly on the protest.

Several Caesars Palace executives including Dean Allen, the hotel-casino's vice president of human resources, who is leading the negotiations, watched the demonstration.

Batjer said there have been more than two dozen meetings between the company and dealers and that several issues may be separating the parties.

Batjer said the company didn't object to the demonstration as long as guests weren't blocked from entering the hotel-casino.

"They have a right to assemble as long as they do it peacefully and orderly and do not disturb our guests," Batjer said.

A vast majority of the roughly 4,000 workers at Caesars Palace are represented by unions, including Culinary Local 226 and various trade unions.

"We have a good relationship with all our unions," Batjer said. "We have been negotiating at the table with our dealers."