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Gaming Guru

Rod Smith
 

Demonstration at Harrah's Headquarters

15 October 2004

LAS VEGAS -- About 100 Culinary members were forcibly removed from Harrah's Entertainment's corporate parking lot Thursday when they tried to deliver a petition demanding the company refrain from hiring permanent replacement workers during the ongoing casino workers' strike in Atlantic City.

D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of Culinary Local 226 in Las Vegas, said in return for the pledge, his union would promise to refrain from criticizing the company during the strike by about 10,000 Local 54 Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees casino workers in Atlantic City.

After a peaceful rally with an estimated 1,000 Culinary workers and a handful of strikers from Atlantic City, Taylor led about 100 protesters across two police barricades, manned by about 40 armed officers, to deliver the petition.

Harrah's Senior Vice President Jan Jones, watching from her fourth-floor office, said it was inappropriate to meet with or discuss the Atlantic City contract situation with union officials in Las Vegas.

After John Velier, Harrah's manager of investigations and security management, twice read a warning over a bullhorn at the demonstrators, saying they were trespassing and would be subject to arrest if they did not leave, the company asked Las Vegas police officers to remove the protesters.

With their fellow members in the background shouting "shame on you," the protesters were led away by Las Vegas police, issued misdemeanor trespass citations and escorted off the company's property.

Taylor, who led the demonstration and was the first removed, said his union targeted Harrah's headquarters at 7140 Bermuda Road near McCarran International Airport because executives there were calling the shots in the ongoing strike against seven Atlantic City casinos, including two Harrah's properties.

He said corporate officials in Las Vegas need to be held accountable for forcing Atlantic City workers to strike, and for injuries suffered by a worker at Bally's Atlantic City, owned by Caesars Entertainment.

He said the Culinary plans a march on Caesars' corporate headquarters here next week in which the injured union worker would participate.

Caesars Entertainment spokesman Robert Stewart on Thursday said his company believes it has substantially met the union's requests, except for its demand for a three-year contract.

"And we feel very strongly we can't deliver the economics of what we've offered in anything less than a five-year contract," he said.

Taylor, Jones and Stewart agreed that the cutting edge issue in contract talks is the union's demand for a three-year contract. The casino companies are insisting that the Atlantic City workers agree to a five-year pact.

Industry sources said there is little chance the companies that are being struck -- Harrah's, Caesars, Aztar and Colony Capital -- will agree to anything shorter than a five-year contract, however long the Atlantic City strike, now entering its third week, drags on.

The four companies have agreed to have one bargaining unit negotiate with the union.

In Las Vegas, Aztar owns and operates the Tropicana; Caesars owns and operates Caesars Palace, the Flamingo, Bally's and Paris Las Vegas; Harrah's owns and operates the Rio and Harrah's Las Vegas; and Colony Capital owns and operates the Las Vegas Hilton.

The unions want three-year contracts so they would expire at the same time as Culinary contracts in Las Vegas. Taylor said the three-year term is essential so the union can negotiate effectively with Harrah's once it completes its pending $9.4 billion acquisition of Caesars Entertainment. Taylor said negotiations in Atlantic City, which broke off two weeks ago, make it clear that the first priority of the combined company is to suppress workers and keep a lid on benefits.

"In Nevada and New Jersey, we had a partnership and the deal was you do well and we do well. But they want to undo the partnership," Taylor said. "The arrogance of Harrah's and Caesars is they think they're so big and powerful the little people can't beat them. But we're going to win."

Inside Harrah's headquarters, Jones said the company supports the First Amendment and the right of workers to organize.

"Our only concern has been making the real facts of what's been offered clear to our employees. In no way did we try to restrict health benefits or wages, or even (refuse to go along with their demands against non-union) subcontracting," she said.

But she said contract term issue overrides all the others.

"That's not about workers. That's about power at the top. It's an entirely different issue," Jones said.

One of the workers arrested Thursday, a shop steward at Paris Las Vegas, said she disagreed with Jones.

"I visited Atlantic City and we all have the same issues. We have families and we're trying to support out families and have Christmas. We want to be able to take our kids to a doctor and now worry about bills that will affect the rest of our lives. To me, it's a battle for all of us and for everyone in the United States. That's what union means, being united," she said.

Wanda Fejza, a public-area attendant at the Atlantic City Tropicana who came to Las Vegas for the demonstration, said the union will not give in.

"We're holding on good. It's been 14 days and the casinos are treating us bad. They throw food at us, but that's OK because food doesn't hurt. The contract (the companies are insisting on) is what hurts," she said.

Union and industry sources agreed that the strike and related demonstrations have turned very confrontational and that neither is likely to end any time soon.

Still, the union has offered to return to the bargain table today in Atlantic City and Jones said her company will be there.

Demonstration at Harrah's Headquarters is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.