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Arnold M. Knightly

Flamingo dealers say union efforts draw fire

8 January 2008

and Benjamin Spillman

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Dealers at the Flamingo say they are being hauled into meetings where top managers at the Strip resort tell their captive audiences why they shouldn't follow workers at Caesars Palace and Wynn Las Vegas by trying to organize a union.

Wynn Las Vegas dealers joined Las Vegas Dealers Local 721, an affiliate of the New York-based Transport Workers Union of America, after the resort began giving some of the tip money collected by dealers to casino managers. Dealers at Caesars Palace voted on Dec. 23 to also organize under the Transport Workers Union.

The closed-door meetings at the Flamingo, which is owned by Harrah's Entertainment, include heated criticism of unions, with managers belittling earlier efforts by the Transport Workers to organize dealers at the New Frontier, the dealers say. Dealers at the New Frontier approved a union contract in 2001 but the union was decertified in 2002.

Current union drives on the Strip can be traced to May, when Wynn dealers unionized in response to the tip-sharing decision by management.

Dealers at Caesars, which is also owned by Harrah's Entertainment, voted last month by a 3-to-1 margin to follow their Wynn colleagues and join the Transport Workers.

The vote was certified by the National Labor Relations Board on Jan. 3.

Joseph Carbon, lead organizer of the Transport Workers Union in Las Vegas, said he will meet with dealers from Caesars on Thursday to begin formulating negotiating points.

A negotiating session with Caesars management has not been scheduled, but Carbon said he expects the two sides to hold their first meeting in the next few weeks.

"They're going to have to sit and bargain with us in good faith," Carbon said. "Hopefully, we can reach a common ground, and that is what our intent is."

Carbon said the union has received authorization cards from dealers at several properties, but union officials won't decide which property to organize until after they meet next week.

Jan Jones, Harrah's senior vice president of communications and government relations, said in a statement Monday that the company does not believe the Transport Workers Union is good for the employees. The best type of partnership is for the dealers and the company to work together, the statement said.

"We are committed to communicating directly with our employees," Jones said. "We believe the dealers have the right to fully understand the reputation and business practices of this union, along with the facts about collective bargaining."

Management at the Flamingo is fearful dealers there are ready to organize, the employees said.

"They are pretty much are saying if we unionize ... we are going to lose and they are going to do the same thing they did at Wynn and take our tips," said a dice dealer who attended one of the meetings.

The dealer, who did not want to be identified for fear of recrimination, is undecided about whether to join the union but didn't like the tone of the meeting.

"I don't care one way or the other," the dealer said of the potential outcome of a union drive. "I just don't like the idea of being threatened."

The dealer said Flamingo Las Vegas President Don Marrandino spoke at the meeting and suggested union representation would be detrimental to the workers.

The dealer paraphrased Marrandino as saying, "We might turn around and do what Wynn did."

Another dealer who was leaving one of the required meetings said the Flamingo executives "repeated the dealers at the Frontier just made a horrible deal (with the Transport Workers)."

Carbon said a companies have the right to call mandatory meetings to discuss union issues.

However, he said the union office has received calls from dealers at various Harrah's properties complaining that management is making threats that could be bordering on harassing dealers under federal law.

"People have the right to organize," Carbon said. "It just seems like Harrah's feels like it is exempt from that. It's the people's right afforded them by the federal government to organize into the union of their choice without any coercion or interference from either party."