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Rod Smith

Session Doesn't Change Atlantic City Strike Impasse

18 October 2004

A much-anticipated bargaining session in the Atlantic City casino workers strike failed to produce results Friday when company representatives refused to disclose their authority in settling the 15-day walkout.

A new company bargaining unit, headed by Harrah's Entertainment that includes the Caesars Entertainment, Aztar Corp. and Colony Capital, all of whose properties are being struck, made its first appearance at the session.

However, negotiators never addressed the key sticking point between workers and companies -- the union demand for three-year contracts so they would expire at the same time as Culinary contracts in Las Vegas.

Other issues involving wages, health benefits and subcontracting to nonunion vendors have largely been settled.

D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of Las Vegas' Culinary Local 226, said company representatives were not prepared to negotiate Friday. He said they also refused to tell union negotiators whether they were authorized to negotiate a single contract, whether their companies would be bound by any agreement reached or whether they would be penalized by withdrawing from any agreed-to settlement.

"They said they'd take our offers under consideration, but they gave us no answers to anything, including a request for another (negotiation session) next week," he said.

Caesars Entertainment spokesman Robert Stewart, however, said his company is continuing to work with union representatives in Atlantic City and hopes that all workers will return to work as soon as possible.

Aztar spokesman Joe Cole declined comment. Harrah's and Colony Capital officials couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

Taylor, one of the lead negotiators in Atlantic City, was joined by representatives of Local 54 Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees, which represents the 10,000 striking cocktail servers and hostesses, pastry cooks and cart attendants in Atlantic City, and UNITE HERE, the national umbrella group for the two hotel unions.

Negotiators hadn't met in more than two weeks since the workers walked out Oct. 1.

Taylor said the union will not yield on its demand for a three-year term. He said it is essential so the union can effectively negotiate with Harrah's once it completes its pending $9.4 billion acquisition of Caesars Entertainment.

Industry sources said there is little or no chance the companies that are being struck will agree to anything shorter than a five-year contract regardless of how long the Atlantic City strike continues.

The confrontation intensified Friday when the union scheduled a march by 15,000 protesters for today in Atlantic City. The companies sought a court order Wednesday to block street demonstrations, but a judge said they had to resolve the situation with Atlantic City police.

Also Friday, Harrah's ran full-page advertisements in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun that said the union demand for three-year contracts is not in the best interest of its members.

Caesars Entertainment has run a series of advertisements in Atlantic City newspapers saying workers have been sold out by Las Vegas union bosses.

In its ads, Caesars Entertainment explains how workers can resign from their jobs, return to work and still be entitled to all the benefits covered by the union contracts.

Industry sources familiar with the Atlantic City situation said 10 percent of Caesars workers have returned to work despite the strike and said it appears the company is trying to coax all the workers back rather than yield to the demand for a three-year contract.

Session Doesn't Change Atlantic City Strike Impasse is republished from