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John G. Edwards
 

Teamsters Approve New Pact, End Strike

13 September 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Members of Teamsters Local 631 approved a new labor contract Saturday, ending a weeklong strike that was threatening to disrupt Las Vegas' multibillion-dollar convention business during one of its busiest times of the year.

A total of 1,033 union members turned out Saturday afternoon at the Painting & Decorating Contractors of America union hall in Henderson and voted 734 to 299 to approve the new contract after listening to a presentation from their leaders about the offer.

The contract establishes the wage and benefit package for 3,400 members of Local 631 for the next three years. The contract includes a $1 per hour raise, retroactive to June 1. Of that, 71 cents will go toward health and welfare benefits.

Over the course of the three years, the contract provides a total of $4.20 in wage and benefit increases, to be parceled out in six-month increments.

The new pact will apply to GES Exposition Services and The Freeman Cos., which hire Teamsters to set up and dismantle exhibition booths. Most of the 100 small independent contractors that help convention exhibitors also must agree to the contract, and the others are expected to go along, said Ed Burke, secretary treasurer of Local 631.

Teamsters will return to work Monday, he said.

Union members struck Sept. 4 and had been picketing several convention sites around Las Vegas, including the Las Vegas Convention Center and Thomas & Mack Center.

Negotiations began in March. The Teamsters' contract expired May 31 and was extended for 30 days.

The Teamsters continued to work under the terms of their expired contract until they walked out at the end of the Men's Apparel Guild in California trade show after rejecting what was then GES' and Freeman Cos.' final offer.

Under the contract approved Saturday, employees who work at least 86 hours a month will have their health care and benefits covered. Anything less and the worker must pay for the difference.

Jim Guerrero, a Teamster for 14 years, said he voted for the contract.

Alberto Silva, 52, who broke his leg on the job and hopes to be working again by January, said he was satisfied with the contract.

"Everyone wants the impossible," he said. "Isn't that human nature?"

"We don't have health and welfare (benefits)," the 14-year Teamster said. "They're not giving us fair wages, either. They can fire us for any reason."

Bradford, who has two adult children at home and a wife who is a temporary worker at public schools, said workers would have a hard time reaching the 86-hour floor each month.

"They're screwing us bad," he said.

Teamsters said voting seemed to be split between people who think they'll reach the 86-hour mark and those who don't.

District Judge Stewart Bell on Thursday issued a temporary injunction restricting places that pickets could operate after the contracting companies accused the pickets of illegal activities such as threatening people crossing the picket line.

The Teamsters said they stopped picketing voluntarily Friday after a nightlong negotiation session resulted in the tentative contract agreement that was voted on Saturday.

For Las Vegas hotels and convention centers, contract ratification is good news because a strike could have caused trade associations and other groups to cancel meetings in the city.

Before the agreement, the convention service companies had proposed wage and benefit increases totaling $2.50 an hour during the next three years.

The basic wage for Teamsters working in convention services businesses is $21.86 an hour, but the union said their work is sporadic. In mid-summer, work opportunities disappear, while union members might have to work 20 consecutive days during busier convention periods, such as in the fall.

Teamster members, however, said they were most concerned about proposed changes by companies that would have made most union workers ineligible for health care insurance.

GES representatives proposed requiring that Teamsters work for more than 173 hours a month to qualify for health insurance coverage, according to the Teamsters.

That would have prevented 95 percent of the Teamsters, who work on a part-time basis when called, from having health insurance, said Milan Dobrijevich, business agent for Teamsters Local 631.

"When you talk about health and welfare, that's not negotiable," Dobrijevich said.

The Teamsters also were concerned that, under the previous contract, convention service companies had underfunded health and welfare programs by $10 million during the past three years, he said.

Convention labor typically is divided into several tiers. A trade show organizer such as the Consumer Electronics Association, which produces Las Vegas' annual International Consumer Electronics Show, will hire a large general contractor such as GES, Freeman or Champion Exposition Services to handle big tasks such as loading and unloading freight, laying carpet or erecting show signage.

Exhibiting companies -- for example, consumer electronics giants Sony or Microsoft Corp. -- subsequently would lease space at the Consumer Electronics Show directly from the association. But when it's time to erect their displays on the show floor, exhibiting companies can use a show's general contractor to service their space or hire their own third-party company, known as an exhibitor-appointed contractor.

The vote ends a strike that already was triggering incidents among pickets, nonunion workers and, in one case, university police.

Dobrijevich said he intends to sue university police for hitting pickets with batons, an allegation that university police denied.

That incident occurred on Thursday near the Thomas & Mack Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Teamsters also complained that a motorist drove into three pickets at that location later the same day, causing minor injuries.

A demonstrator who was hit by a vehicle earlier in the week, however, remains in the hospital, Dobrijevich said.

GES Exposition Services told a district judge that Teamsters were vandalizing property, threatening people and hitting trucks with picket signs and rocks.

But Dobrijevich said the convention service companies have yet to provide him with any videotapes proving their allegations, as he requested.

John G. Edwards
John G. Edwards