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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Culinary leaders toast new ownership of Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

19 February 2015

LAS VEGAS -- Leave it to labor leader D. Taylor to mention the irony of the location for Wednesday’s joint event with Culinary Local 226, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Blackstone Real Estate Partners, the hotel-casino’s new owners.

The last time Taylor was inside the Strip property, he was detained and cited by Las Vegas police for trespassing in the very spot the media event was taking place, next to the Chandelier Bar near the hotel-casino’s east-side entrance.

Eighteen months ago, the union and The Cosmopolitan weren’t very chummy. The union held several protests that blocked the Strip in front of the resort, committing several acts of civil disobedience. Union members were recorded shouting insults at guests as they entered the resort.

All that was in the past Wednesday. The union wanted to celebrate the new ownership.

“This is all about a fresh start,” said Taylor, president of Culinary parent UNITE HERE of the half-hour event to welcome Blackstone to Las Vegas.

Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., were also part of the welcoming committee, as was Michelle DiManso, a cashier at the resort’s Wicked Spoon buffet.

Taylor said any lingering bad feelings between the union and the resort vanished when Blackstone paid $1.73 billion to acquire the 2,995-room hotel-casino from Germany-based Deutsche Bank last year.

Jonathan Gray, the global head of real estate for Blackstone, said the company was enthusiastic about acquiring The Cosmopolitan, plans to invest more than $100 million in the 4-year-old resort and is looking to make additional investments in Las Vegas and other areas of Nevada.

“We’re also excited about having the Culinary workers as part of this effort,” Gray said.

Blackstone is a division of New York-based Blackstone Group, a multinational private equity investment fund. The company owns the Hilton Worldwide hotel chain, which has multiple contracts with UNITE HERE. The Blackstone division owns $81 billion in real estate assets globally.

After The Cosmopolitan opened in December 2010, the union conducted a card check for representation, and a majority of the nongaming employees voted to organize. Preliminary talks were held without a contract agreement.

Before taking over The Cosmopolitan, Blackstone hired longtime gaming executive Bill McBeath as president of the hotel-casino. Previously, McBeath and Taylor negotiated contracts for several Strip resorts. The two know each other and were on message together that a labor agreement would be reached before the end of the year.

A contract would cover about 2,400 of the property’s 5,000 employees.

“I’m working to find dates for discussions,” McBeath said. “We have the benefit of reviewing previous proposals.”

Taylor expects a “good faith negotiations” between the union and the resort and was hopeful a long-term contract would include similar language for wages and health and welfare benefits that were signed last year with other Strip resorts.

DiManso, who has been an employee of The Cosmopolitan since opening day and serves on the negotiating committee, said at the event she was encouraged when Blackstone took over and didn’t make employees reapply for their jobs.

Taylor said that act broke with tradition on the Strip.

“You have to commend the workers here, who have been extremely patient,” Taylor said.

Three years ago, The Cosmopolitan reached out to the union through a donation to the Culinary Training Academy, giving more than $250,000 worth of equipment that was part of NBC’s “The Today Show” annual Lend a Hand program. Items included equipment, beds, computers, and playground equipment. Cosmopolitan employees also built a garden at the site.

Blackstone is already focused on Nevada. The company owns nearly 1,000 homes in Las Vegas, and in 2013, Blackstone subsidiary Equity Office Partners acquired the 1.4-million-square-foot Hughes Center at Paradise and Flamingo roads for $347 million. The office park was renamed The HC | Hughes Center.

McBeath saluted the new relationship between the union and the company.

“Only in Las Vegas can you have a champagne toast at 10:30 in the morning,” he said.