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Arnold M. Knightly

Tropicana, Culinary union to resume talks

20 August 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Tropicana Entertainment's top executive promised there will be "a very material change in direction" when negotiators sit down with Culinary union officials today.

"The spirit of the meeting is to try to resolve our situation as quickly as possible," said Scott Butera, company chief executive officer and president. "(We want) to do things that are fair and respectful for the employee but also appropriate for the company."

The Tropicana on the Strip and Culinary Local 226 are scheduled to resume negotiations this morning on a new collective bargaining agreement, both sides confirmed Tuesday.

Butera, who will be involved in the negotiations for the first time, said he could not discuss details of what will be presented to union officials.

The talks, which also involve Bartenders Local 165, reached an impasse earlier this year when the union sought clarification on many key parts of the Tropicana's proposal, including guaranteed workweeks, definition of shifts and a new health and retirement plan.

Nearly 750 workers at the hotel-casino have been working on an extended contract since May 31, 2007.

Negotiations were put on hold May 5 when Tropicana Entertainment filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Delaware after the company defaulted on nearly $2.7 billion worth of bonds.

Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said recently he is encouraged because company owner Bill Yung III is no longer involved in day-to-day operations.

However, he retained a wait-and-see position about what difference Butera and the new management will make in negotiations.

But there may be a shift in the typically contentious relationship between the Tropicana and the unions. Butera told state Gaming Control Board members on Aug. 6 that he expects a new contract with the Culinary union within 30 to 60 days.

He repeated that commitment Tuesday.

"This is a very important thing with regard to our company in general," Butera said. "Our employees are our biggest asset. Making sure they're happy and are being rewarded and compensated fairly is very important to us. This is a bigger issue than just the restructuring (of the company)."

The union negotiations come a day before Butera is scheduled to appear before the Nevada Gaming Commission for approval of new board members to take control of the company.

The hearing comes while the four-member board, which includes Butera, is still under investigation for approval by state regulators. The move is necessary so the company can continue with its bankruptcy restructuring.