Las Vegas accords raise hopes
By Angie Wagner
LAS VEGAS A tentative five-year contract was reached yesterday between culinary workers and casino giant Park Place Entertainment, a breakthrough that quickly led to other deals and hopes that a June 1 citywide casino strike can be avoided.
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The MGM hotels in Las Vegas including the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, above have not yet reached a union contract agreement but a spokesman expressed optimism at the way yesterday's settlements turned out.
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Union officials said the contracts, which call for $3.23 1/2 in increased benefits and wages over the length of the deal, preserve fully paid health benefits for some 16,500 maids, bellmen, cocktail servers and food service workers. Also, the new contracts improve working conditions for housekeepers.
D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer-elect of Local 226, praised the gambling companies for negotiating to prevent a damaging strike.
"In a difficult time for Las Vegas, they stepped up to the plate and did the right thing for their employees," Taylor said. He predicted union members will ratify the contracts.
"It's good news," said Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Mirage, which owns the most Strip hotel-casinos and is still negotiating.
"We're pleased to see that some of our proposal seems to have been incorporated in the agreement with Park Place. We look forward to meeting with the union this weekend."
Park Place, which has five Strip hotels with contracts that expire next week, is the world's largest gambling company and owns or operates 28 worldwide under the Caesars, Bally's, Flamingo, Hilton and Paris brand names.
Harrah's spokesman Gary Thompson said his company was happy with the five-year deal and the extension for the Rio, whose contract was not expiring.
Union contracts with 35 casinos expire May 31, and union members have overwhelmingly authorized a strike if deals aren't reached by then.
The city struggling to recover from a tourism dip after Sept. 11 that has seen revenue decline about 10 percent has followed negotiations anxiously.
The culinary and bartenders' unions want continued free health care coverage for 47,000 members and also complain about overworked maids.
Casinos say healthcare costs are up and tourism is down and they must adjust for that.
The union was seeking a two-year contract because of the uncertain economy; most casinos wanted a five-year deal.
The union will negotiate today with Boyd Gaming, which operates the Stardust, Fremont and Main Street Station hotels. On Sunday, MGM Mirage and Mandalay Resort Group have scheduled a bargaining session.
The last casino workers' strike, in 1984, lasted 67 days and was marked by violence and hundreds of arrests.