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Arnold M. Knightly

No progress in Tropicana, union talks

6 February 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A 5 1/2-hour meeting Monday failed to produce significant movement in contract talks between the Tropicana and Culinary union, union and company officials said Tuesday.

While the parties are far apart on many core issues, neither side has discussed a date for canceling the current contract or for a strike.

Tropicana's lead negotiator, Mark Ricciardi, a local labor attorney, said Culinary Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 have yet to present a formal counter to a proposal the property made in December.

Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said the negotiating committee is still working through the proposal.

"We've been going through, in detail, their proposal," Taylor said. "They've put in a lot of different stuff we don't understand at all. They have to justify and explain it. It's a slow process because there's so much."

The union wants clarification on many parts of the proposal, including sections dealing with guaranteed work weeks, definitions of shifts, and the use of part-time workers and subcontractors.

The Tropicana also wants to replace the union's health plan and pension plan.

While the union examine the proposal, it has suggested some language changes on some noneconmic issues that the property has accepted, Ricciardi said.

"We have made significant modifications to our proposal based upon the talks," Ricciardi said. "(Monday) they asked a lot of questions and had a lot of comments about our proposed language."

The talks came at the end of a contentious week, with the sides using local media to exchange allegations of misconduct.

The 50-year-old property is the last Strip hotel-casino without a new contract for Culinary union workers. Nearly 750 workers have been working on extended contracts since the previous agreement expired May 31.

Monday was the fourth time the two sides have met since August. They will meet again Feb. 28.

The Tropicana entered negotiations while its parent company, Columbia Sussex Corp., was facing problems locally and elsewhere.

In August, a $2.5 billion redevelopment of the 34-acre Las Vegas site was put on hold because of the tightening credit market. The Fort Mitchell, Ky.-based parent company also lost its operating license in New Jersey, and has come under harsh criticism for its operation and budget and payroll cuts in Las Vegas. Nevada gaming regulators have said they are looking into personnel cuts the company made in its security staff at the Strip resort to determine whether security at the property has been hurt.

Ricciardi, however, said those issues are not relevant to the contract talks.

"What happens to the parent company doesn't change our obligation to operate our casino here and to bargain in good faith," he said. "The union will continue to bring up those things, but they have no bearing on our obligation to run a casino and negotiate an agreement."

Taylor is not so dismissive of the problems. He said the parent company's actions foster distrust in the company among union members.

"The New Jersey regulators, not us, found they had a lack of honesty, integrity and good character," Taylor said. "Clearly, what they say across the table, if we don't have ironclad language and assurances we're not going to go by it, so it obviously has bearing on how we view the company."