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Arnold M. Knightly

Time granted to reach accord

6 November 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Culinary union officials on Monday agreed to a request from Mission Industries to allow the industrial laundry one more week to find a way to pay for the union's health care plan without a strike.

However, Culinary Local 226 spokeswoman Pilar Weiss said the union will spend the time preparing its members for what would be the union's first strike in five years.

If no agreement is reached, the union will strike next Tuesday, she said.

"We always want to avoid a strike if possible," she said. "We've given them that week to come back to us but we're getting ready to go on strike."

Both sides are scheduled to meet again Monday and Weiss said the union will take no further action this week.

The talks followed three days of picketing and passing out fliers last week in an attempt to draw public attention to the dispute.

In the meantime, Mission Industries will continue to try to renegotiate some of its customer contracts to help pay for a health care plan it says costs the company more than twice the current plan.

How the laundry company will pay for the union's health plan remained the largest unresolved issue as talks ended Monday evening after four hours of negotiations.

Nearly 50 hotel-casinos receive sheets, pillow covers and towels, tablecloths and napkins at restaurants and dry cleaning services for uniforms from the laundries' six local plants.

The union's health plan provides full coverage for family members with no coverage caps and no payments from workers.

The laundry workers' current health plan provides limited coverage for them and their children and doesn't cover spouses.

The workers' negotiating committee received a surprise pep talk during a break in Monday's talks.

Without media fanfare, former President Bill Clinton met privately with nearly 100 workers at Culinary headquarters, passing on a message about proposed health care reform from his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who is now seeking the Democratic presidential bid.

"The president offered words of encouragement to the negotiating committee on behalf of Sen. Clinton," said Robby Mook, Sen. Clinton's Nevada campaign director, who was traveling with the former president.