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Alana Roberts

Culinary, Aladdin Set to Talk

23 February 2005

Despite a previously contentious relationship with the current and previous owners of the Aladdin, Culinary Union and company leaders have expressed optimism about their ability to hammer out a deal.

The union and the company are set to begin negotiations on behalf of about 1,500 cocktail servers, bartenders, maids, porters and food service workers on March 1 and 2, D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union Local 226, said.

"I think that obviously a first-time contract will always pose some challenges," Taylor said. "I'm very confident we will find a mutually acceptable contract and I'm looking forward to negotiations."

Amy Sadowsky, an Aladdin spokeswoman, expressed the same optimism about the upcoming negotiations process.

"Everything is on track as per our initial announcement," Sadowsky said. "We're looking forward to the process."

The Aladdin's workers will add to the union's current 48,000-person membership.

The Aladdin is currently owned by OpBiz LLC, a partnership between Robert Earl, the co-founder and chief executive of Planet Hollywood International Inc.; Bay Harbor Management LC; and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. The group bought the property in a bankruptcy-court auction.

More than a year ago the union got a majority of workers to sign cards through a card check signifying their interest in joining the union. The company's previous ownership, the Sommer Family Trust and London Clubs International Plc, declined to recognize the card check through a neutrality agreement. The company's former owners stated they would prefer to have the workers decide if they want the union's representation through a National Labor Relations Board-run election, a form of organizing that is less desirable to the union.

The stance the property's former owners took prompted union leaders to picket the property several times and to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The union also waged a negative public-relations campaign against the company's current owners complete with an informational Web site dedicated to criticizing the group, pickets of the property and critical letters to Nevada Gaming Control Board leaders.

A card check is a form of union organizing that calls on organizers to get workers to sign cards specifying their support of the union. The other component of that form of organizing is the neutrality agreement, with the company agreeing to accept the union once a majority of workers sign union cards.

The company announced in December that it would cooperate with the Culinary Union and allow the union to try to organize its workers.

"We plan to be a serious player on the Strip," Earl said at the time. "We don't need to have any fights for the sake of a fight. The workers wanted this and we gave it to them straight away."

The union has also reached an accord with the leaders of Wynn Las Vegas, Arte Nathan, chief human resources officer for Wynn Resorts, confirmed. Nathan said Wynn Las Vegas has signed a neutrality agreement with the union. He said the agreement follows a long history of cooperation between Steve Wynn and his properties and the union dating back to when Wynn owned the Golden Nugget and the Mirage.

"We think it's to our advantage and theirs," Nathan said. "Employees want to belong and these are reasonable folks who represent our employees and our interests. They've been good partners to us."

The card check won't take place until after Wynn Las Vegas has employees in place Nathan said. The property's leaders will begin making job offers next Monday and employees will begin working between March 21 and April 28 when the property opens to the public.

"I think the union will be aggressive as far as getting people to sign up," Nathan said. "I suspect some time after we open they will come to us and say, 'We either have them or we don't."'

Taylor declined to discuss the union's organizing plans at non-union gaming properties such as Station Casinos, the Palms and the Venetian.

Taylor said the union's other plans include local work completing the merger between the Culinary Union's parent Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union and UNITE. The two unions merged at the national level to become UNITE HERE in July.

Taylor said the merger is necessary in order for the union to remain a powerful force.

"We think sometime in the spring we'll have that merger completed. They will merge into the Culinary Workers Union."

He said since most gaming companies use union labor to perform laundry service the union won't need to launch a campaign on behalf of UNITE's members against gaming companies. However, he said both the 3,000 Las Vegas UNITE members and Culinary Union members will benefit from the merger.

"I think it's fundamental in the union movement," Taylor said. "We have more strength in numbers. We (Culinary Union) have a longer tradition in this town. I think that will be helpful. We'll benefit too from those members being in our union."