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Benjamin Spillman

Pacts offer job security

22 October 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Casino workers in downtown Las Vegas may not know who they'll be working for five years from now but new labor contracts will protect their wages and benefits no matter who is in charge.

About 4,400 workers from Culinary Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 voted Saturday on new labor contracts with nine downtown properties.

The labor deals pay Fremont Street casino workers less than their colleagues at Strip properties but they come with job security provisions that are new to the struggling downtown market.

Under the deals negotiated last week, workers will keep their jobs or be paid in the event of an ownership change, redevelopment or shutdown of properties covered by the contract.

"There is a lot of speculation some places might close down," Culinary union secretary-treasurer D. Taylor said. "Places are being bought and sold down there like monopoly pieces."

The job security provisions could be worth millions of dollars in payouts to workers if a property with several hundred union workers changes hands or closes for redevelopment.

Properties like the Golden Nugget, where owners have invested about $170 million in upgrades since 2005 without shutting down, aren't likely to be affected by the job security provisions.

But for other properties that are on prime real estate but would need a more drastic overhaul to upgrade their competitive status, the provision could be costly.

"It is real dollars," said Gregory Kamer, who negotiated contracts on behalf of all nine properties covered by the recent contracts.

Kamer estimated payouts for workers could add another $7 million to $10 million to potential redevelopment costs at a property with several hundred union employees.

Nevertheless, Kamer said negotiations for the new labor contracts went more smoothly than previous years because the union was more willing to accommodate situations that were unique to particular properties.

Workers downtown, for example, will be under three different contracts with provisions that apply to their properties.

The Golden Nugget, the largest and most successful downtown hotel-casino, will pay union workers less than they would earn on the Strip but more than other properties downtown.

In total, workers at the Golden Nugget will see an increase of $2.90 an hour in wages and benefits during the length of the contract.

Workers at the El Cortez, Western Hotel, Fitzgeralds, Four Queens, Plaza, Las Vegas Club, Fremont and Main Street Station casinos will see an increase of $2.40 in wages and benefits during the same time.

Meanwhile, unionized workers on the Strip will get $3.47 per hour increases.

Workers at Binion's and Golden Gate casinos downtown are yet to negotiate new contracts.

So are workers at Jerry's Nugget in North Las Vegas, the Tropicana on the Strip and two laundries that serve major Las Vegas hotels.

Besides job security and wage increases, the downtown contracts include provisions that raise tip guarantees for bellhops and banquet servers, Taylor said.

Workers will also keep health care benefits that don't require out-of-pocket employee payments.

Taylor said the major concession by union workers is the wage structure that will widen the pay gap between Strip and downtown workers.

"Clearly we wanted more money than that," Taylor said. "We also looked at the realities of downtown."