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Chris Jones

Teamsters Strike After Rejecting Deal

7 September 2004

Members of Teamsters Local 631 on Saturday rejected a contract offer from two of the city's largest convention service companies and opted to strike just as Las Vegas' multibillion dollar convention industry enters its busy fall season.

Teamsters Vice President Tommy Blitsch said union members voted 1,135 to 18 to turn down Thursday's offer from GES Exposition Services and The Freeman Cos. The Teamsters' strike was officially under way at 8 p.m., after union leadership informed the companies of the vote.

"They're very upset," Blitsch said of the Teamsters who attended Saturday's special meeting. "They had an opportunity to read the contract and asked some very good questions. The majority of our members feel that the (contractors') offer is not worthy of the effort that they do on the floor."

The union wants a larger pay raise than was offered by the contractors, and members also are upset by claims that GES and Freeman want to raise their insurance qualifications from a minimum of 86 hours worked per month to 173 monthly hours.

Freeman and GES officials issued a statement late Saturday that said the companies are disappointed in the union's decision. The contractors also said Teamsters' leaders "failed to educate their members on the terms of the proposed contract" and disputed that their offer called for changes to the number of hours workers need to qualify for benefits.

The companies said their proposed three-year deal contained wage and benefit increases totaling $2.50 per hour over the life of the contract. The proposed rates, including salary and benefits, would have capped at $36.78 per hour in the deal's third year, the companies said through a written statement.

The Teamsters' agreement with GES and Freeman's decorating division expired May 31 but initially was extended for 30 days. Until late last week, most union laborers continued to work under the terms of their former agreement while their leaders negotiated with the contractors.

But when union leadership Thursday afternoon deemed the contractors' latest offer unacceptable, a reported 2,400 Teamsters faked illness and walked off a GES-supported job taking down the Men's Apparel Guild in California trade show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

A few union members returned to work Friday. On Saturday, most who reported to the MAGIC job site checked out early to attend the 3 p.m. union meeting at Henderson's Painting & Decorating Contractors of America union hall.

About half of the union's 6,000 local members work primarily in Las Vegas' thriving convention industry, which Tradeshow Week magazine has ranked as the nation's top convention destination for 10 consecutive years.