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Arnold M. Knightly

Crunchtime for union talks

13 November 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Culinary union and Mission Industries enter 11th-hour negotiations today hoping to avoid a strike planned for Tuesday morning if a a new contract agreement is not reached.

Workers could hit the picket lines outside the company's six plants as early as 3:30 a.m. Tuesday when the plants open if an agreement is not reached at the 2 p.m. meeting.

Talks ended last Monday after Culinary Local 226 agreed to give Mission an additional week to renegotiate some of its service contracts so it could afford to put its employees under the union's health plan.

"The casinos have all been willing to listen and talk with us," said David Spurlock Jr., general counsel for Mission Industries, which supplies laundry and linen service for nearly 50 hotel-casinos. "They've been receptive."

The Culinary has spent the past week preparing for what could be its first strike since workers at the downtown Golden Gate walked out for eight days in July 2002.

Mission Industries has assured its clients that it will continue all of its services if workers do strike.

"We're considering all of our options and taking any steps we can to ensure we continue to service our customer," Spurlock said. "We will be ready."

Paying for the union's health plan, which the laundry said costs twice as much as the plan it now offers, is the largest stumbling block in the path toward signing a new contract.

Mission Industry's current insurance plan provides coverage for workers and their children with coverage caps. Spouses may be added at an additional charge to the employee.

The union's health plan offers full coverage for all full- and part-time employees from the first day of employment. The plan also has no out-of-pocket expenses for workers

"It's an exorbitant amount," Spurlock said about the cost of the Culinary's plan. "We have a health plan now. We have a good health plan which the employees have been on for a number of years."

Union companies pay an average of $3.86 per hour worked per employee in health care costs, according to a report released in June by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Culinary's proposal for the laundry would cost $3.44 per hour worked per employee.

"It's because we have good density here and we can negotiate rates with the hospitals and providers," said Kevin Kline, the union's negotiator on the laundry, referring to the nearly 60,000 area workers covered by the health plan.

The union has been adamant about including workers in its health plan in all its negotiations with the hotel-casinos.

Kline said the union health plan is a cornerstone of the organization's larger mission for providing the workers opportunities to buy homes, send their kids to college and retire.

Spurlock said rising health care costs have taken their toll on everyone from individuals to large corporations.

"I would venture to guess there are few companies in the United States, at this point, that have complete, 100 percent coverage for employees that costs nothing," he said. "To do that with the way the health industry has gone throughout the United States puts a tremendous burden on any company, and we're no exception."