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Rod Smith

Casinos Accused of Labor Offenses

29 October 2004

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey -- With 10,000 casino workers going into the fifth week of their walkout in Atlantic City, union officials escalated hostilities Thursday by filing about 200 unfair labor practices complaints against the four affected companies with the National Labor Relations Board.

Harrah's Entertainment was hit with 48 complaints, Caesars Entertainment with 49, Colony Capital with eight and Aztar Corp. with 85.

The complaints cite 214 incidents in which union workers claimed they were harassed and intimidated by managers, executives and nonunion employees still on the job at the seven struck casinos. Most of the complaints involved arguments on picket lines at the seven casinos affected by the strike: Tropicana Casino and Resort, Caesars Atlantic City Hotel Casino, Bally's Atlantic City, Resorts Atlantic City, Showboat Casino-Hotel, Harrah's Atlantic City and the Atlantic City Hilton.

In Las Vegas, Aztar owns and operates the Tropicana; Caesars owns and operates Caesars Palace, the Flamingo, Bally's and Paris Las Vegas; Harrah's owns and operates the Rio and Harrah's Las Vegas; and Colony Capital owns and operates the Las Vegas Hilton.

Meanwhile, Harrah's Entertainment and Aztar this week turned up the heat by advertising for permanent replacement workers. Caesars Entertainment is also running ads, but only for temporary workers. Colony Capital remained mum on hiring replacement workers.

According to federal labor laws, a company can hire permanent replacement workers during a strike if the dispute involves economic issues. If a deal is reached later, the company does not have to rehire strikers, sources said.

Las Vegas Culinary Local 226 Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor, one of the lead negotiators in Atlantic City, said both sides have turned to the Cold War strategy of mutually assured destruction. "If they want nuclear war, we'll declare nuclear war. There will be ramifications. We don't have to say what they will be. The results will occur," he said.

David Hames, an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who specializes in labor and dispute resolution, said the "confrontation is an escalation of conflict (which has) become a power struggle. It's partially a fear thing. This is not uncommon," he said.

"When your jobs are threatened and the union is threatened, you look for ways to assert your power in the struggle that's unfolding," he said.

Caesars Entertainment spokesman Robert Stewart said the tactic of filing NLRB complaints was expected, although his company believes it has conducted itself in a proper, fair and lawful manner during the strike.

"We have not hired any permanent replacement workers. We're hiring to fill positions that were vacant before the strike."

Harrah's spokesman David Strow said his company has not been formally served with the complaints and does not comment on pending litigation.

Aztar spokesman Joe Cole and Colony Capital spokesman Owen Blicksilver declined to comment.

More than 10,000 union bartenders, cocktail servers, housekeepers, porters, food servers and counter servers belonging to Local 54 Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees at seven Atlantic City casinos walked off their jobs Oct. 1.

The two union locals and HERE UNITE, the national umbrella union for both, are demanding three-year contracts that would expire at the same time as Culinary contracts in Las Vegas.

Taylor said the three-year term and linking the agreements between the two gaming cities is essential so the union can negotiate effectively with Harrah's once it completes its pending $9.4 billion acquisition of Caesars Entertainment.

Industry sources who asked not to be named said again Thursday there is little or no chance the four companies that are being struck will agree to anything shorter than a five-year contract.

Other issues the union says are unresolved but the companies claim have been settled involve wages, health benefits and subcontracting to nonunion shops.

The companies have agreed to have one bargaining unit negotiate with the union, but at their only talks since the walkout, negotiators refused to disclose their authority in talking with the union, whether they were negotiating one contract or multiple contracts and whether they would pay a penalty if they walked out on any agreement.

Deutsche Bank analyst Marc Falcone said there does not appear to be a settlement in the near future.

"Recent reports indicate a federal mediator may be brought in to help move talks forward," he said.

Falcone said it is unclear how long the strikers will continue their walkout or what toll it will take on operators.

Still, Falcone said striking workers may begin to get nervous when operators hire replacements while they are trying to live on strike pay of $200 a week.

However, Carla Corr, a banquet server with the Tropicana in Atlantic City for 16 years and a member of the negotiating committee, said the companies will not be able to starve the union out.

Corr, who is one of the workers involved in the NLRB complaints, said only 670 of the 10,000 strikers have returned to work, and the others will not cross the picket lines.

She also said that although she has been harassed at work and at home by Tropicana Chief Executive Officer Dennis Gomes, she would return to work if the strike is settled. "I loved my job," she said.

Casinos Accused of Labor Offenses is republished from