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Arnold M. Knightly

Margaritaville, unions reach deal on contract

13 September 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Margaritaville, a restaurant partly owned by singer Jimmy Buffett, reached a tentative accord Tuesday on a new collective bargaining agreement with Culinary Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165.

The agreement, which covers 400 workers at the restaurant inside the Flamingo, comes on the eve of a strike authorization vote by nearly 10,000 local casino industry workers.

If the vote passes, the union negotiating committees would have the ability to call a strike at 16 hotels, casinos or suppliers that have not signed new collective bargaining agreements.

The votes are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. today at Cashman Field.

"We want a fair, new contract that protects the Las Vegas dream for every member of the union," Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said in a statement. "Our members will have the opportunity to vote to give their negotiating committee authorization to call for a strike, if that is what is necessary to achieve a fair contract."

The unions are negotiating new contracts with 14 casinos and a pair of industrial laundry companies that have contracts with gaming companies on the Strip. Workers at these companies have been working on extended contracts since current pacts expired May 31.

Representatives for some of the 12 downtown properties have complained that the unions are looking for deals similar to the ones struck with flourishing properties on the Strip.

Downtown gaming revenue decreased 3.6 percent in 2006 to $630.4 million from $654.2 million a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Strip gaming revenue jumped 10 percent to $6.7 billion last year.

Nearly 36,000 workers at Strip gaming giants Harrah's Entertainment and MGM Mirage received new five-year contracts with 3.7 percent guaranteed annual raises and health-care coverage that doesn't require employee-paid premiums.

Companies are also criticizing today's strike vote as coming too early.

"The call for a strike vote so early in the proceedings is very disappointing," stated an employee memo distributed at the Tropicana on Tuesday.

Hud Englehart, spokesman for Fort Mitchell, Ky.-based Tropicana Casinos and Resorts, said the company has only had three meetings with the union and is hoping for continued discussions.

The last negotiating session took place Aug. 29 when the Tropicana proposed replacing the union health and pension plans with its own, and also proposed use of part-time staff and subcontracting of jobs.

Taylor said the union has received similar proposals in the past but has been able to retain its own union plans.

He added that the Tropicana was the last property to settle five years ago under its previous owner Aztar Corp. after 18 months of talks.

Englehart said the Tropicana hasn't even put hard numbers on the table yet and is expecting to meet with the union "dozens of times."

The pending deadline may have already sped the progress on some negotiations.

Besides Margaritaville, the Stratosphere reached an agreement covering 1,200 workers on Saturday and the Sahara reached an agreement that covers 700 workers on Monday.

Details of the three agreements were not available pending separate ratification votes scheduled for Saturday.

The agreements bring to six the number of new contracts reached this year between the unions and Las Vegas operators.

The unions already reached new agreements with the Riviera and gaming operators Harrah's Entertainment and MGM Mirage earlier this summer.

Today's vote doesn't mean there will be a walkout; it just gives negotiating committees another bargaining tool during contract talks, according to union officials.

The unions have amassed an $80 million strike fund, the largest such fund in the union's history.

Gaming companies still in negotiations declined to comment directly on today's pending vote.

"We're having productive discussions with the Culinary," Las Vegas Hilton spokesman Ira Sternberg said. "We hope to reach an agreement soon."

Rob Stillwell, spokesman for Boyd Gaming Corp., said the company doesn't comment on continuing negotiations in the press. Boyd Gaming owns downtown union properties Fremont and Main Street Station.