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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Strip Labor: Aladdin Workers OK Union

6 December 2004

The ownership of the Aladdin agreed Friday to allow more than half of its work force to be represented by Culinary Local 226 after a significant portion of the Strip resort's employees signed union authorization cards seeking representation by the state's largest labor organization.

A contract, in which more than 1,600 workers will be covered by the Culinary and its associate organization, Bartenders Local 165, will be negotiated after the first of the year. The announcement ended an ongoing battle between the Aladdin and the union that began under the resort's previous ownership when the $1.4 billion property re-opened in 2000.

A Planet Hollywood-led investment group took control of the troubled hotel-casino Sept. 1 and launched a $500 million plan to resurrect the 2,567-room resort as Planet Hollywood. Aladdin President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Mecca said it was clear from Day One that employees wanted union representation.

"We got to know the people who work here and understand our business," Mecca said. "We listened to what the people of the Aladdin wanted. From the day we took ownership, our goal was to do what's best for the Aladdin, its employees and the community."

Mecca said the Aladdin, which employs 3,000 workers, and the union agreed to the card check, in which employees seeking union representation sign an authorization card.

Employees who will be covered by the Culinary include: cocktail servers, bartenders, food servers, cooks, guest room attendants, stewards and porters.

The card check, which took place Friday, was overseen by an independent arbitrator who verified the results. Union leadership didn't disclose the final total, but Mecca said more than 1,100 eligible Aladdin employees had signed the cards by midafternoon.

"It was very clear that our employees who took part in the process wanted to be represented by the union," Mecca said. "We have been in conversations with the union for some time."

D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary, said a signed contract with the Aladdin will mark the first time that a nonunion resort has negotiated an agreement with the 50,000-member labor organization since 2001 when the Rio agreed to unionization.

The union had held numerous protests on the Strip over the past few years seeking a contract with Aladdin.

The most recent protest took place in early August, before the Planet Hollywood team took over the resort, when an estimated 1,500 union members rallied against the property's failure to recognize the union's organizing claims.

"We had signed petitions with over 70 percent of the employees asking for union representation," Taylor said. "I'm not surprised the vote went the way it did and I certainly applaud the new management for the approach they took. This (1,600 workers) is a significant bargaining unit."

Taylor expects the Aladdin contract to reflect much of what agreements with other Strip properties have in place, but would also pertain specifically to the Aladdin's concerns.

The Aladdin ownership bought the troubled resort for $637 million last year in bankruptcy court. The company, OpBiz, plans to initially spend $100 million next year renovating the gaming and shopping areas, eventually reconfiguring and renaming the resort as Planet Hollywood by early 2006.

The agreement with the Culinary doesn't cover the Desert Passage shopping mall. Mecca said Aladdin would "act within the best interest of our employees," if approached by other job classifications seeking union membership.