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Arnold M. Knightly

Some Rio dealers seek to unionize

9 June 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Dealers at the Rio share the same concerns that drove their colleagues at two other local properties to seek union protection. But the Rio dealers' union-organizing efforts are also driven by their fears that the off-Strip property could be sold and they could be left unemployed.

"We were family," said Laurie Auricchio, a dealer at the property since it opened on Jan. 15, 1990. "Now it's corporate. It's investment companies owning us, and they could sell us off tomorrow. I want job security."

Auricchio, one of the dealers who is backing a bid to organize dealers at the resort, said that without a union, the dealers could be let go and asked to reapply for their jobs with no guarantees if the property were sold.

"They wouldn't have to rehire us," she said. "All of a sudden they could start going for a different age group, or a group that they feel they could intimidate more."

Casino dealers at the Rio filed a petition Tuesday asking for a representation vote to unionize under Las Vegas Dealers Local 721, a division of the New York-based Transport Workers Union of America.

Division director Joseph Carbon wouldn't say how many of the nearly 420 Rio dealers filled out cards requesting the vote, but he did describe the response as "overwhelming, a very high percentage."

A union vote must be held by July 11, unless the union and the Rio's parent company, Harrah's Entertainment, agreed on a different date. The gaming company did not return requests for an interview.

Union leaders and legal counsel for the gaming company Thursday afternoon were negotiating terms of the vote, a location and a date.

Many of the Rio dealers' concerns echoed those of dealers that organized at the Wynn Las Vegas and Caesars Palace: protection of tips and better communication with management regarding their concerns about health benefits, wages, seniority and job security.

Harrah's generated $10.8 billion in 2007, making it the largest gaming company by revenue. The company was bought late last year for $17.7 billion by a joint-venture between private equity firms Apollo Management and TPG Capital.

Some analysts have speculated since the deal was first announced in late 2006 that the new owners might sell the Rio as part of a larger asset sale to buy down nearly $25 billion in debt load incurred with the buyout.

"Since they've come in and we've heard their name, we've seen the bottom line chipped away in every single area," said Jeff Bolz, a dealer for three years. "Things have just been deteriorating, but more importantly, so has morale."

However, concerns about management's handling of the property goes back to January 1999, when Harrah's bought the property for $888 million, the dealers said.

The property was built and run by developer Tony Marnell, who made workers feel like family, the dealers said. That family feel disappeared when Harrah's took over, they added.

Although many dealers are pushing to organize, there are an unknown number against the union efforts of their co-workers.

A longtime dealer, who asked that his name be withheld because he was not authorized to talk to the press, said his colleagues are reacting to the tip-pooling policy at Wynn Las Vegas.

"People who are for this here are operating out of fear that what happened at the Wynn will happen here," the dealer said.

According to the dealer, management has said there are no plans to take dealers' tips or to institute a policy similar to the one at Wynn Las Vegas.

However, dealers gathered at the union's offices said if the Wynn tip-pooling policy, which shares dealers' tips with other front-line managers, is found legal by the Nevada Supreme Court, other companies would feel free to adopt the policy.