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Jennifer Robison

Hospital labor dispute: Ex-gaming boss to mediate talks

10 January 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A high-profile former gaming executive will attempt to help the Valley Health System and the Service Employees International Union resolve a nine-month labor dispute.

Phil Satre, the retired chairman of Harrah's Entertainment, will try to foster an agreement between the hospital operator and the union, who have tangled bitterly over a new labor agreement since contracts for 800 nurses and 110 technicians at Valley and Desert Springs hospitals ran out in May.

Satre accepted the role of mediator for a simple reason.

"Some people I respect and admire asked me to help," he said.

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, Nevada Assembly Speaker-elect Barbara Buckley, Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman asked Satre to guide bargaining for the next month in an effort to resolve the negotiating impasse.

Satre said Jan Jones, a former Las Vegas mayor and current Harrah's executive, approached him about two weeks ago on behalf of the elected officials and asked him if he'd be interested in overseeing talks should negotiating with federal mediators not yield an agreement.

Federal mediation didn't prove successful by the end of last week. Satre agreed on Monday to participate.

"I am not coming into this with any background as a mediator, but I feel like I may be able to provide some assistance, and I thought it was worth my time and effort to try," Satre said. "Obviously, I'm interested in seeing an outcome here that works for the community and both organizations involved in this."

D. Taylor, secretary and treasurer of the Culinary Workers Local 226, said Satre is qualified to spearhead labor talks.

"He's highly professional, very detailed and no-nonsense," said Taylor, who worked with Satre on labor negotiations for Culinary members employed at Harrah's. "He has an ability to get to the core issues, and he's been very good at building consensus. I have a lot of respect for him."

Satre spent 25 years with Harrah's, which he joined in 1980 as vice president, general counsel and secretary. He became president and chief executive officer of Harrah's Gaming Group in 1984 and chief executive officer of Harrah's Entertainment in 1994. He was named chairman of the company in 1997, and retired from that post on Jan. 1, 2005.

Satre, who lives in the Reno area, is also on the board of the Nevada Cancer Institute, and he's served on the board of trustees of the UNLV Foundation as well. The American Gaming Association inducted Satre into its Gaming Hall of Fame in 2003.

Gibbons said in a statement that Satre's career has positioned him to assist in the talks.

"A settlement between the union and the hospital administration is important to all Southern Nevadans," Gibbons said. "We have the utmost confidence in Phil Satre to bring his experience from management and labor relations and his genuine concern about Nevadans to the table."

Added Reid: "(Satre is) very capable and has experience with complex negotiations. I'm hopeful that the parties will allow him to lead them to a resolution for the benefit of the entire community."

Satre said his work as the chief executive officer of publicly traded Harrah's required him to come up with solutions to account for competing interests between, for example, Harrah's and regulatory authorities, or between Harrah's and other private entities the company worked with.

The company's relationship with the Culinary was strained in the 1980s, Satre said, but that relationship evolved in the 1990s as executives of Harrah's realized that "we could collaborate (with the Culinary) to create the best possible guest experience." Improving visitors' experiences would benefit both Harrah's and the Culinary, as happier customers would be more likely to return to the company's hotel-casinos.

Satre said he sees parallels in the Valley Health-Service Employees International Union dispute.

"Hospitals have high marks because patients have very good experiences with the nursing staff and other parts of the company, and the SEIU also wants a positive (working) experience for its members," he said.

Officials of both Valley Health and the union praised Satre's selection.

Jane McAlevey, executive director of the Nevada chapter of the Service Employees International Union, pointed to Satre's service with the Nevada Cancer Institute and his role in building Harrah's Entertainment into one of the country's biggest hotel-casino operators.

"It's terrific to have a well-respected Nevadan who understands Nevada's business environment and who understands the need to make improvements to health-care in Nevada," McAlevey said. "If you look at his profile, it's clear this is someone who cares about Nevada."

David Bussone, group director of Valley Health, said he's eager to begin talks involving Satre.

"He certainly has a very prestigious background, and we look forward to meeting him," Bussone said. "His success in dealing with labor relationships is a plus."

McAlevey said she had no reservations about Satre's management background, and wasn't concerned that he'd favor one side based on his professional experiences.

"This state is known for what (Satre) and others like him helped build -- a world-class entertainment and resort town," she said. "Our nurses and this organization are trying to put Nevada's health-care systems on the map, and I'm assuming the people who came here to help grow and develop Nevada's chief industry realize that Nevada is maturing. People are beginning to be concerned about the quality of education and health care."

Taylor said he believed Satre would be "very fair" to both sides in the dispute.

"If there's not a successful resolution (with Satre mediating), one of the two parties can be blamed," Taylor said. "It would be despite the best efforts of Phil Satre. At the end of the day, both parties have to want a resolution that is in line with the standards of the community, and I think Phil Satre will understand that."

Both Valley Health and the union have suggested dates for new negotiations, but no talks have been scheduled.

Satre said his responsibilities as mediator run until Feb. 3.

Hospital labor dispute: Ex-gaming boss to mediate talks is republished from