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Arnold M. Knightly

Talks stall between Caesars, dealers

30 December 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Caesars Palace officials said contract talks with unionized dealers have broken down after nearly two years of negotiations. Therefore, Caesars officials said, the hotel-casino on Friday will begin implementing many provisions outlined in a final contract offer sent to the dealers union in August.

Las Vegas Dealers Local 721, meanwhile, has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the hotel-casino of bargaining in bad faith and refusing to bargain.

Union director Joseph Carbon said Monday that he is scheduled to give a deposition Jan. 5 to the labor board claiming that Caesars' representatives were merely going through the motions when they met with the union to negotiate an agreement.

"The nature in which they've been bargaining, it's a shame," Carbon said. "That people are not afforded a good contract and Caesars has done nothing but surface-bargain."

The contract impasse came after 30 meetings between Caesars and the dealers, said Marybel Batjer, vice president of communications for Caesars owner Harrah's Entertainment. The dealers approved unionization in December 2007.

"The parties have remained apart and we don't foresee a resolution on a number of issues," she said.

Batjer said Caesars unsuccessfully tried to schedule more talks with the union after a session in November.

Carbon, however, said Caesars refused to set new dates.

The provisions coming Friday will change dealers' 401(k) retirement plans, vacations and health benefits to bring dealers' benefits in line with Caesars' other workers.

In February, Harrah's suspended its matching payments for employees' 401(k) contributions because of the economic downturn. The company has continued to match the dealers' contributions while union negotiations continued.

"The dealers have been benefiting, particularly in the area of vacation and (paid time off) and the 401(k) match for two years, in many ways, benefiting greater than their colleagues and co-workers," Batjer said.

The dealers union talks stalemated over other issues, including seniority and the handling of dealers' tips, which now are shared among dealers and overseen by a dealers' tip committee. "They want to stick a contract down our throats that is all their language," Carbon said. "Basically, the current contract is the majority of their language and they refuse to move off certain issues and refuse to discuss them."

Batjer said Harrah's is not changing its tip policy now. But she added that management at each property has the right to review tip policy.

"What we have always contended is that management has the authority to modify and implement procedures pertaining to the pooling and distribution of gratuities," Batjer said. "That's what we've always maintained. That doesn't mean we're going to exercise the authority. We maintain the authority."

Wynn Las Vegas dealers are still without a union contract, too.

The Wynn dealers, however, want to wait for a decision on the tip-pooling case now before the Nevada labor commissioner before ratifying a contract.

Labor Commission spokeswoman Elisabeth Daniels said Tuesday that her office's ruling, which was expected to come next month, might not come until April. This is because Labor Commissioner Michael Tanchek needed more time than expected to review the 55 hours of testimony from the hearing.

Some dealers told the Review-Journal that they were concerned that ratifying a union agreement now could influence the labor commissioner's decision.

Carbon, however, downplayed that concern, saying: "It's not something that can be submitted in briefs."

He predicted that the tip issue, which involves Wynn Las Vegas' decision to let some front-line supervisors share in the dealers' tip pool, will eventually be decided in the courts.

"We may be years away from a final decision being rendered," he said.