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Howard Stutz

Nevada Unions Averting Dispute

26 July 2005

Despite two major unions dropping their membership from the national AFL-CIO, Nevada labor leaders said Monday they don't foresee any changes in the makeup of the statewide labor movement.

Union representatives said their organizations plan to continue an affiliation with the 165,000-member Nevada AFL-CIO, and one labor leader hinted that the changes nationally could re-energize labor on a statewide scale.

Nevada AFL-CIO Executive Director Danny Thompson was in Chicago as a delegate to the national AFL-CIO convention and could not be reached for comment, but he had his supporters in Nevada.

"The state AFL-CIO has done a good job, and it's my intention that we continue to be associated with the organization," said Gary Mauger, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 14, one of three Teamsters affiliates in Las Vegas. "What happened today was on a national level. It should not affect anything we're doing in Nevada.

"We support Danny and we'll continue our efforts in the state."

Local 14 represents approximately 3,300 workers, including maintenance, truck drivers, and warehousemen for various private and public sector businesses.

Vicky Hedderman, president of SEIU Local 1107, could not be reached for comment. According to the union's Web site, the Las Vegas SEIU represents more than 12,000 workers, including employees with Clark County, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, McCarran International Airport, the Las Vegas and North Las Vegas housing authorities and the Clark County Health District.

Leaders of the Nevada Democratic Party were watching the events in Chicago with some trepidation.

With the 2006 statewide elections looming on the horizon, including contentious races for governor and other constitutional offices, any split within organized labor could hurt Democratic campaigns, which have traditionally considered the labor movement a partner in political efforts.

"This is a issue that labor leaders have to work out amongst themselves," state Democratic Party spokesman Jon Summers said. "But in the end, organized labor, for the most part, shares and supports similar views on issues with Democrats."

Summers said state Democrats hoped the Nevada AFL-CIO would not be hampered by the actions in Chicago.

The biggest player in the Nevada labor picture, the 50,000-member Culinary Local 226, plans to remain in firm standing with the Nevada AFL-CIO, despite the events in Chicago. UNITE HERE, the Culinary's parent organization, which represents textile employees and hospitality workers at the Strip's major properties, joined the Teamsters and the SEIU in boycotting the convention, a step some interpreted as a prelude to leaving the AFL-CIO.

Last week, John Wilhelm, a former Culinary union leader in Las Vegas and president of UNITE HERE, resigned as chairman of the AFL-CIO Immigration Committee.

Amanda Cooper, spokeswoman for UNITE HERE in New York, said the breakaway movement from the AFL-CIO has been going on for a while and a coalition was formed a few months ago by dissident unions "to encourage the Federation to change course."

The AFL-CIO needs to redirect resources toward organizing new members and bringing more workers into the labor movement, she said.

"Las Vegas is a model for workers who have organized to form a middle-class service economy," she said. "The AFL-CIO is more focused on external movements -- politics and labor reform -- which are very important, but shouldn't be the priority of a labor movement. That should be the workers."

Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said he told Thompson the local organization wasn't splitting from the Nevada AFL-CIO despite events in Chicago.

Taylor's only worry is if the AFL-CIO votes to support a measure that would prevent dissident unions from joining the organization only on a statewide level. Unions that have left or might leave the AFL-CIO constitute 80 percent of the Nevada organization's membership.

"If that happens, it could be a disaster here," Taylor said. "The AFL-CIO in Nevada is strong and we support Danny. (The Culinary) is staying with the state AFL-CIO and we see no reason to make any changes on a state level."

Taylor said the movement nationally, however, could help organize efforts in Nevada, where several unions might band together in those endeavors.

"I see the prospects where two or three unions work together to organize on a much larger scale," Taylor said.

Review-Journal writer Hubble Smith contributed to this report.