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Arnold M. Knightly

On-call servers protest union deal with Harrah's

28 January 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A new way of scheduling banquet servers at some of the Strip's largest properties could end up taking food out of the mouths of some of the workers and their families, according to its critics.

A group of Harrah's Entertainment's on-call banquet servers says a new company policy on assigning shifts has left them with almost no work.

"We want answers," said Richardo Garcia, a father of four who was picketing outside the Culinary Local 226 headquarters Friday. "We won't be able to take care of our kids, our families and our homes."

For the third Friday in a row, approximately 20 disgruntled workers picketed the union headquarters on Commerce Street for 11/2 hours to protest the change.

The Culinary accepted the new system as part of its new five-year contract ratified by nearly 99 percent of all Harrah's workers in June.

Harrah's Entertainment could not be reached for comment.

The protesters said the company has been unresponsive to their concerns. The workers plan to take their grievance to the National Labor Relations Board and are looking into filing a lawsuit.

Under the new system, which was implemented in the past few weeks, full- and part-time banquet servers from one property can now pick up shifts at any of the company's other local properties when they are not scheduled to work at their home hotel-casino.

Harrah's properties Rio, Paris Las Vegas, Caesars Palace, Harrah's Las Vegas, Flamingo and Bally's are affected by the new scheduling.

The new policy means an estimated 500 on-call servers are no longer tied to a single property. Instead, they are now part of a much larger worker pool vying for available shifts.

Protesters say part of the problem is that full- and part-time workers are allowed to log into a database showing available shifts 15 minutes before on-call servers have access.

"We're being discriminated against," said Charles Jacob, an on-call banquet server at Rio and Paris Las Vegas since 2002. "We want the same chance (to get the extra shifts) as full- and part time workers. We're not trash."

Previously, all full- and part-time workers and on-call banquet servers were hired to work at a specific property.

Critics say the new system has two major flaws: Workers from properties that do less banquet business can now jump ahead of on-call servers who were more accustomed to working at busier properties. Additionally, with no cap on hours, full- and part-time servers can more easily work longer days, or on their days off, for the extra money.

They also claim customer service is taking a hit because the longer hours are taking a toll on the full- and part-time workers.

"They're exhausted," said Antonin Trneny, an on-call banquet server at Paris Las Vegas since 2000. "They're the walking dead by the end of the day. Then the manager lets them go home early and the on-call servers have to work extra hours for the same tips to clean up."

Trneny argues that Harrah's should have let the on-call servers continue working as employees of specific properties, then let the full- and part-time servers from other properties pick up extra shifts behind them.

Garcia said he is worried that the new system could cause him to lose his house and insurance coverage for his family and cause him to get behind on child support.

Garcia and Trneny said many on-call servers work for more than one gaming company because full-time banquet server positions on the Strip are rarely available.

Union officials said the pickets' anger is misplaced.

"They are protesting a contract that is transparent that their fellow workers approved," the union's Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said. "They should have an issue with them."

Trneny, however, said the only banquet servers on the negotiating team were full- and part-time workers, who were looking out for themselves.

On-call servers protest union deal with Harrah's is republished from