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Arnold M. Knightly

No sheets, no linen, no napkins

27 September 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- While negotiations between the Culinary and hotels continue, other contract talks between the Culinary and an industrial laundry company could affect casino operations in Southern Nevada.

A strike at the six local plants of the laundry, Mission Industries, could disrupt laundry service to 23 Strip, 10 downtown and 16 locals hotel-casinos.

The laundry workers have been working under a contract extension since October while management negotiates with Culinary Local 226. On Monday, nearly 1,500 employees of the industrial laundry company Mission Industries began registering for strike benefits.

"We've come a long way since last year," said Kevin Kline, lead negotiator for the Culinary union. "We are awaiting a response from the company. Hopefully we'll meet later this week or early next week to get that response."

Kline said the union submitted its latest proposal in August and is awaiting a response. Mission Industries did not respond to a request for comment.

It is the first negotiations between Mission Industries and the Culinary union, which obtained the contract with the 2004 merger with UNITE.

Mission Industries provides sheets, pillow covers and towels for hotel rooms, tablecloths and napkins at restaurants and dry cleaning services for uniforms. But the industrial laundry has told some properties that service would continue during a strike.

"Mission Industries has given us assurances that service will continue in the event of a strike," said Debbie Munch, spokeswoman for Harrah's Entertainment, owners of the Mission Industries customers Imperial Palace and Rio.

Station Casinos, which has nine properties that are customers of the laundry company, has not asked for assurances of continued service but is confident that service will continue.

"We've been business partners with Mission Industries for more than 20 years," said Lesley Pittman, vice president of corporate and government relations for Station Casinos. "We are confident that regardless of the outcome of their discussions with the Culinary, they will be in a position to continue to service our properties as well as they have."

Kline said the main focus is to bring the laundry workers into the union's health plan. He said the health plan is the main benefit the Culinary union offers.

"If you have the free family health insurance, it allows you to use your wages for other things," Kline said. "It's getting the laundry workers into the Las Vegas dream. They've been left out of it."

Kline said the worker's current health plan provides limited coverage for the worker and children but does not cover spouses.

Dora Gutierrez, a 47-year-old single working mother with diabetes who has worked at Mission for 12 years, said she struggles to pay her medical bills under the company's current health plan.

Gutierrez and a few dozen co-workers registered for strike benefits Monday afternoon at Mission Industries Plant 10 in northeast Las Vegas.

Through an interpreter, Gutierrez said her current insurance doesn't cover her injections or most of her yearly medical costs to treat her condition.

"On top of all the health problems, I haven't gotten a raise in two years," she said.

Pilar Weiss, spokeswoman for the Culinary, said the union's health plan would cover Gutierrez's health concerns with no caps and low co-pays.

"I came to Las Vegas for the American dream," said Juan Rosas, who has worked at the plant for five years. "The tourist industry is growing up every day. I was thinking here I would get my American dream to improve for me and my family."

The 52-year-old father of three worked for 20 years as a civil engineer in western Mexico before first moving to Los Angeles, then Las Vegas.

Rosas said he would also like to secure guaranteed workweeks, seniority and yearly raises.

The union announced the formation of an $80 million strike fund on Sept. 4.

The Culinary union and Bartenders Union Local 165 are still negotiating with 12 hotel-casinos, mostly downtown.