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Chris Jones

Convention Contractors Will Ponder Next Move

7 September 2004

Members of Teamsters Local 631 are scheduled to meet this afternoon to discuss the next step in their heated labor dispute with two of Las Vegas' largest convention contracting companies.

Hundreds of union members faked illness and walked off the job in protest Thursday evening as they were to have started taking down the remnants of this week's Men's Apparel Guild in California trade show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Although some union laborers returned to work Friday, officials on both sides of the conflict are gearing up for a prolonged battle that could produce a strike just as Las Vegas enters its busy fall convention season.

Union Secretary-Treasurer Ed Burke was unavailable Friday as he prepared for today's 3 p.m. meeting in Henderson. But Chief Steward Doug Manning said about 3,000 union members three weeks ago unanimously voted to strike unless they were satisfied with this week's contract offers from GES Exposition Services and The Freeman Cos. decorating division, the businesses behind many of Las Vegas's largest trade shows and conventions.

"We don't want to strike, bro. We just want some respect," Manning said. "When both of these companies are showing the profits that they're showing and don't care about keeping maintenance and benefits for my members, let alone their children -- I just can't take that to my members.

"These (contractors) have had enough taken from (union members) for long enough. We don't want to ruin this industry. This is our industry; we're very proud of it, and it keeps Vegas going. But the Teamsters are the ones who have built this," he added.

Manning declined to say what might result from today's meeting, though he said the union's negotiating committee and executive board will decide "when and where we're going to hit them."

One union member, who asked not to be identified, said Friday he believes a strike is imminent.

"I'd bet $100 on it," the worker said from the convention center. "It's very tense out here. There are already a lot of scabs at work and it doesn't look like this will cool down anytime soon."

The union and contractors are at odds over projected pay increases and the contractors' request to raise from 86 to 173 the minimum number of hours workers must put in each month to maintain their medical and other benefits.

Both sides have been in negotiations since March. The Teamsters' contract expired May 31 and was extended for 30 days, and since that time the parties have continued to negotiate while working under terms of their expired agreement.

Tensions boiled over Thursday when GES and Freeman made their final offer, which union leaders deemed unacceptable before walking off the job.

The companies issued a joint statement Friday that said work had resumed on GES' MAGIC job, as well as Freeman's move-in of the coming week's International Vision Expo, which starts Thursday at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

"Both Freeman and GES are fully prepared to meet their commitments to their clients and to service the exhibitors that participate in Las Vegas conventions," the statement said.

Sources on the show floor said Friday afternoon the clothing displayed at MAGIC had been removed, though most of the exhibitors' booths and displays were still in place. The tear-down process was originally slated to end this evening, a deadline that quickly became untenable after union members walked off.

Manning described Friday's turnout as minimal, though he declined to call workers' absence an official walk-off because such a move would forfeit the Teamsters' ability to maintain their hold on convention contracts.

"A bunch of people were still sick," Manning said.