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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

MGM Mirage workers: Unions approve contract

27 August 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- MGM Mirage workers represented by the Culinary and Bartenders unions overwhelmingly approved a new five-year collective bargaining agreement Friday that not only secured employees higher wages and benefit increases but also ensured the possibility that the labor organizations' single largest bargaining group could grow even bigger.

Employees, meeting in morning and afternoon sessions at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, ratified the collective bargaining agreement covering 21,000 members of Culinary Workers Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 at 10 MGM Mirage Strip resorts. Vote totals were not released.

The agreement called for an annual total cumulative wage and benefit package increase of $3.47 hourly over the term of the contract. The total raise averages out to 3.7 percent per year for five years, a figure similar to the one contained in an agreement the unions reached in June with six casinos owned by Harrah's Entertainment and a deal negotiated this month with the Riviera.

Workers retained their family health insurance plan where employees are not required to pay premiums. Also, the contract maintained the company's contributions to the employee pension fund. The contract language formalized job opportunities and a job placement priority program for employees in the event an MGM Mirage property were to close during the life of the contract. It requires compensation if the company cannot offer jobs to those employees.

There are also increases in guaranteed gratuities for tipped employees, contributions to an IRS legal defense fund, and a housing trust fund established by the union. MGM Mirage will provide full pay and benefits to Culinary employees called up to active military duty, and the contract establishes employee advancement and training programs.

"I feel great about the economic package," Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said. "It's what we reached in negotiations with Harrah's and the Riviera, and it's what the committee put forth to MGM Mirage."

In June, Harrah's said the total package would cost the company an extra $265 million over five years. MGM Mirage did not say how much the new package would cost the company, but it's expected to be significantly more than the Harrah's total because of the number of employees. The Harrah's agreement covered almost 15,000 workers.

The key factor in the MGM Mirage deal, however, was language covering the potential for the unions to organize workers at future hotel-casinos, hotels and condo-hotels developed by the company, including projects where MGM Mirage has a joint venture agreement with another investor or developer.

The unions and the company agreed to card-checks at those projects where employees simply sign a card or authorization form asking for union representation.

Some of the places the Culinary expects to try to organize workers include the $7.4 billion CityCenter under construction on the Strip and the recently announced joint venture between MGM Mirage and Kerzner Holdings International on the north Strip. Kerzner developed Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas.

CityCenter is expected to employ 12,000 workers when it opens in 2009. And the Culinary, which currently has 60,000 members citywide, could organize more than half of the work force. CityCenter's centerpiece 4,000-room hotel-casino is expected to have between 8,000 and 9,000 employees, of which, roughly 6,000 could fall under the Culinary's job classifications.

"Clearly, that language was very important for our members," Taylor said.

Shortly after the contract was officially ratified, the union and MGM Mirage released a joint statement saluting the deal that was agreed upon Wednesday night after a 10-hour negotiating session.

The union and MGM Mirage executives had met 32 times in both large and small groups between the middle of March and late June, seemingly reaching an impasse after the last meeting. The sides had not met for almost two months until Wednesday.

"These agreements reflect the same long-held support for our employees that MGM Mirage has demonstrated for many years," said Cynthia Kiser Murphey, the company's senior vice president for human resources and the casino operator's lead negotiator. "We will continue to create enormous opportunities for our employees to grow and thrive in this amazing community."

Taylor, who led the union's negotiating team that consisted of MGM Mirage employees, said the contract ensures both the employees' future and the labor organization's future growth.

"Las Vegas is going through another huge building boom and we are happy to have reached a settlement that makes sure that the employees are a key part of that growth," Taylor said. "We look forward to the new projects that MGM Mirage has coming online."

The five-year-contract covers workers at Bellagio, The Mirage, Treasure Island, Mandalay Bay, Monte Carlo, Circus Circus, Slots-A-Fun, Excalibur, New York-New York and Luxor. The MGM Grand has a separate contract with the Culinary. Also, the union has a separate 10-year agreement with Wynn Las Vegas that was signed in 2005.

With employees from MGM Mirage, Harrah's and the Riviera under contract, some 13,000 Culinary workers are still without new agreements. Contracts expired May 31, but extensions at unsettled properties have been put into place. Negotiations are continuing with independent casino operators on the Strip and downtown.

The union has scheduled a strike authorization vote for workers at the unsettled properties on Sept. 12.

"We are happy to have our negotiations with the major Strip operators finished, but we will not be satisfied until every worker has achieved a fair, new contract," Taylor said. "My phone hasn't been ringing with properties wanting to settle based on the MGM deal. Our membership is all fighting for the same thing."

MGM Mirage workers: Unions approve contract is republished from