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Rod Smith

Culinary Union Plans Actions Against Four Local Gaming Companies

13 October 2004

Culinary Local 226 will launch a series of job actions in Las Vegas this week to turn up the heat in its confrontation with four local gaming companies that have workers striking at their Atlantic City casinos, union officials said Tuesday.

The union plans to take its protest directly to Harrah's Entertainment corporate headquarters at 7140 Bermuda Road on Thursday by busing about 1,000 workers demanding a company pledge to hire no replacement workers in Atlantic City while the strike there continues, union officials said.

It also ran full-page advertisements in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun Tuesday claiming Aztar, Caesars Entertainment, Harrah's Entertainment and Colony Capital forced workers in Atlantic City out on strike and want to bring Mississippi labor standards to Las Vegas. An estimated 10,000 casino workers struck the Atlantic City properties Oct. 1 over three issues - the length of the new contract, health benefits and subcontracting jobs to nonunion employers.

The union also plans a series of meetings inside several Las Vegas properties, with striking workers brought in from Atlantic City who will tell workers here how they have been treated in New Jersey, they said.

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.

Culinary Local 226 Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor blamed Harrah's and Caesars Entertainment, which are in the process of completing a $9.4 billion merger, for most of the problems in the Atlantic City negotiations.

The four gaming companies being struck announced Friday the formation of a single bargaining committee, led by Harrah's Entertainment and Caesars Entertainment.

Taylor said Harrah's and Caesars Entertainment are using the planned merger and the increased marketing power it would have to force an unacceptable contract on workers, rather than working in partnership with the union as the companies have in the past.

The union claims Harrah's-Caesars wants to bring Mississippi labor standards, which are among the lowest in the country, to the Las Vegas and Atlantic City markets.

It also claims the companies are trying to keep the Las Vegas and Atlantic City markets separate by insisting on different expiration dates for contracts, as well as forcing union members to choose between wage increases and health benefits and insisting on subcontracting out low-wage jobs.

Harrah's spokesman David Strow, however, said the claims, and the ads in the newspapers that elaborated on them, are exceptionally misleading and untrue.

He said Harrah's has enjoyed labor peace for the past 20 years and wants to see that continue.

Strow called charges of union busting ludicrous and said the companies' proposed contract should be accepted. Strow, however, declined to specifically discuss whether the company would consider the no-replacement workers pledge the union wants his company to sign.

"We are interested in signing one document and one document only - a five-year labor agreement with (the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union in Atlantic City) Local 54, which has been on the table for two weeks," Strow said. "We believe it's both fair and generous, and we believe Atlantic City workers would approve it overwhelmingly if given the opportunity to vote."

Workers at the Culinary union hall Tuesday were more antagonistic toward the companies.

Sean Sabatini, a cook at Caesars Palace, for example, said it is very distressing to hear the companies explain how good the merger will be for investors and workers, and then to see what they are making workers go through in Atlantic City.

Strow also said no replacement workers have been hired, although he conceded that more than 400 Harrah's manager level employees have been flown into Atlantic City on chartered airplanes to fill in for striking workers.

Taylor said picketing union members will remain at Harrah's corporate headquarters until the pledge to hire no replacement workers is signed. "I'd be happy to stay there several days," he said.

He said whether civil disobedience and arrests take place is entirely up to the company, although union members who asked not to be named said they were warned to expect more than 100 arrests.

"The industry is at a crossroads. If they want to continue this challenge, it'll change the relationship," he said.