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Arnold M. Knightly

Unions set deadlines for deal

9 October 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Culinary and Bartenders unions Monday sent a message to most of the hotel-casino properties still negotiating new contracts: It's time to reach an agreement.

Culinary Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 set deadlines for nine downtown properties to reach new contracts or the union will terminate the contract extensions its members have been working under since May.

Terminating the extensions would open the door for possible actions by the unions, including going on strike, forming picket lines, organizing boycotts or even doing nothing.

However, negotiators for the unions and seven of the affected downtown properties said Monday they believe the contract disputes will be settled before the deadlines.

The Fremont, Main Street Station, Four Queens, Fitzgeralds, Plaza, El Cortez, Las Vegas Club and the Western Hotel were given until Monday to reach a deal while the Golden Nugget has an Oct. 17 deadline.

The Fremont and Main Street Station are owned by Boyd Gaming Corp., which declined to comment on the deadline.

"I made it very clear to the employers that we have a deadline because we think we work better with a deadline," Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said. "Frankly, we've had enough time to negotiate, and we want to get this thing done."

Taylor, who said he expects contracts talks to succeed, said the union has meetings with the properties scheduled up until the deadlines.

He said union members don't want to have to take any action against the properties, although they are prepared to do so.

No deadlines were set for negotiations with the Tropicana, Jerry's Nugget, Binion's and the laundries Mission Industries and Al Phillips. Most of these properties have not had as many negotiating sessions with the unions as the downtown properties.

Gregory Kamer of the law firm Kamer Zucker Abbott, attorney for seven of the properties, said the contracts' sticking points are coming down to a couple of financial issues.

"The deadline will get everybody more focused," Kamer said. "We've had an opportunity to discuss both sides of these proposals so the timing of this is understandable. It's understood where it's coming from, and I'm optimistic that we'll be able to reach an agreement."

The unions set a similar deadline when talks with downtown casinos were stalemated in 2002. The deadline helped most of the casinos and the Culinary to reach agreement on new contracts. Only the Golden Gate failed to approve a new contract, and its workers struck for eight days in July of that year.

Last month, the two unions announced the formation of an $80 million strike fund, which was followed by a Sept. 12 vote by union members to authorize a strike if negotiating committees believe talks are stalemated.

Boyd Gaming Corp. spokesman Rob Stillwell wouldn't comment specifically on the deadline announcement.

However, he said: "We're in dialogue with the union and have every reason to believe we'll reach an agreement mutually beneficial to both sides."

Bill Lerner, gaming analyst for Deutsche Bank, said it is in everybody's interest to resolve the contract issues.

"If you look at other markets, these things tend to be resolved pretty amicably," Lerner said.

He noted that although the Culinary's strike fund may be deep, the casino operators also have the ability to hold their ground in negotiations.

Taylor said: "All the parties have had to time to put their proposals on the table and time to discuss. Hard decisions have to be made and hard decisions usually get made when there's deadlines."

The unions have reached new five-year contracts with six operators during this year's contract negotiations: gaming giants Harrah's Entertainment and MGM Mirage as well as the Riviera, Stratosphere, Sahara and Las Vegas Hilton.