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Benjamin Spillman

Nugget, workers reach accord

18 October 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Management at the largest and fanciest hotel-casino in downtown Las Vegas struck a tentative labor agreement with about 1,500 unionized workers late Wednesday.

The deal between the Golden Nugget and workers from Culinary Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 came nearly 12 hours after the two sides entered late-stage talks.

Neither side wanted to discuss details before union members vote Saturday on whether to ratify the pact.

"I don't want to do anything that would interfere with that approval," said Gregory Kamer of the firm Kamer Zucker Abbott, which negotiated on behalf of the Golden Nugget. "Each side had to stretch to make it happen."

D. Taylor, the union's secretary-treasurer, said in a statement: "Many of the workers at the Golden Nugget have been there, through many different owners, and we are happy to see the new owners agree on a contract," he said.

The union had set a deadline for a possible labor action if no deal were reached by the end of Wednesday. But union officials indicated no action would occur if both sides remained at the bargaining table.

Talks between union workers and management at six other properties -- El Cortez, Plaza, Western, Las Vegas Club, Fitzgeralds and Four Queens -- are scheduled for today.

The talks will cover provisions to protect workers should the casinos change hands. At least six of 11 downtown properties have changed ownership since the previous five-year contract began in 2002. Negotiators from both sides said the Boyd deal included such provisions.

If talks today conclude successfully, two unionized Fremont Street-area casinos would be without new contracts, Binion's and the Golden Gate.

Despite an uptick in recent months, the amount of money downtown casinos win from customers has been stagnant or in decline for more than a decade. Property owners, most notably Landry's Restaurants, owners of the Golden Nugget, have poured millions into upgrades, but analysts have said investment in downtown is still precarious.

Labor problems that disrupt the flow of customers would be tough for marginally successful downtown casinos.

And downtown customers tend to forge closer relationships with casino workers than tourists on the Strip because downtown casinos are smaller and because customers often have decades-long relationships with the properties.

"The labor force in many cases is what the public sees," said Keith Schwer, director of the Center for Business and Economic Development at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Schwer said the value of peace between labor and management is decided by customers. Because few hotel and casino markets are as heavily unionized as Las Vegas and relationships with customers are more fleeting than ever, pressure exists on both sides to provide service that proves the value of unionized help.

"Is the room in Las Vegas cleaner? Are the people who clean that room more pleasant to be with?" Schwer said. "It is a reflection of both management and labor."