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Rod Smith

The Strip: Protesters Stage Rally at Aladdin

5 August 2004

With the expected takeover of the Aladdin by the Planet Hollywood ownership group less than a month away, an estimated 1,500 union protesters rallied Wednesday against the property's failure to recognize the union's organizing claims.

Culinary spokeswoman Maya Holmes said that even though the union welcomes the new owner, it will keep demonstrating until the Planet Hollywood group recognizes the majority of workers who have said they want to unionize.

The rally Wednesday was dominated by members of the California School Employees Association wearing blue T-shirts. Members of the Culinary Local 226 served as marshals for the protest.

"We want to send a message to the group led by Planet Hollywood that we still want the union at the Aladdin and we hope they will take a different tack than the current management has when they take over in late August or early September," Holmes said of the rally that began about 5 p.m. "We want to welcome them to Las Vegas, but at the same time let them know unless the labor dispute is resolved, it will continue and they'll end up inheriting it."

In March, Aladdin workers released a petition they claim was signed by a supermajority of employees at the Strip property demanding union recognition and a contract with the Aladdin and its future owners.

A key to the dispute has been management's insistence on a secret-ballot election rather than the union's preference for collecting worker signatures on cards and petitions.

The union also filed more than 90 complaints last year against the nonunion Aladdin with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging unfair labor practices. The board has yet to take final action.

Union officials alleged in the complaints that Aladdin executives and managers threatened employees with the loss of their jobs, interrogated workers about their union activities and enforced rules designed to intimidate union sympathizers.

The Aladdin has contested the union's claims and won a partial victory in June when an NLRB administrative law judge affirmed the Aladdin's right to a secret-ballot election on unionizing the property.

Aladdin President Bill Timmins took issue with other claims by workers and the Culinary.

"At the Aladdin, we are proud of our track record of respecting and protecting our employees' rights to job security, fair wages and secure benefits," he said.

Timmins said the Aladdin's commitment to worker rights was affirmed in the sales agreement, which protects the jobs of Aladdin employees, including their wages and benefits, and which the future owners have reaffirmed.

He said the Aladdin will continue to respect and defend employees' rights, but that it believes a "card count," as requested by the union, would deprive workers of their right to a secret-ballot election.

John DiCillo, a waiter at the Zanzibar Cafe who planned to join the demonstration Wednesday, said that while he is excited about the new owners, he and his fellow workers hope they "do what's right and count the cards so we can become a union hotel like the others on the Strip."

Another who planned to demonstrate, Socrates Oberes, a buser at the property, said the management at the Aladdin "has had too much disrespect for us workers."

"I hope they'll change their attitudes and give respect to the employees and given them their benefits. I'm happy Planet Hollywood will come in, but I'll be happier if they count the cards for us," he said.

The California School Employees Association members who joined culinary members and union workers for the demonstration were in Las Vegas for their union's annual convention.

Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said the investigation into gaming licenses and the transfer of ownership has been completed and should be considered by his agency Aug. 11 in Carson City. Final consideration will come from the Nevada Gaming Commission Aug. 26. The sale is expected to close around Sept. 1.

Neilander said the review of the license applications has included an investigation into allegations by the Culinary and outside groups of "conflict-ridden insider transactions and questionable corporate governance" by Planet Hollywood, but he declined to comment on any details of his agency's findings.

He said the investigation has taken about nine months, which is fairly typical in a situation like this in which only one of the applicants already has a gaming license in Nevada.

Planet Hollywood Chairman Robert Earl declined to comment on Wednesday's demonstration, but he said his group will welcome the opportunity to meet with workers as soon as it assumes ownership.

OpBiz, the name the Planet Hollywood group used to front its offer to buy Aladdin, won the right at auction in June 2003 to buy the property for $635 million.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Clive Jones in August confirmed the Aladdin's reorganization plan, clearing the way for the group fronted by Earl to take over the property in August or September.

Aladdin bosses filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors on Sept. 28, 2001, after opening on Aug. 18, 2000.