Las Vegas casino workers reach agreements; gear up for fight with outliers

Las Vegas casino workers will soon vote on a tentative collective bargaining agreements reached over the weekend. The agreements avoid a strike that was scheduled to begin on June 1.

The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165 on June 1 reached an agreement with the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino. On Saturday, May 31 the two unions, both affiliated with UNITE HERE, reached agreements with Plaza, Las Vegas Club, Four Queens and Binion’s.

The agreements reached over the weekend are the last of 17 agreements negotiated with Las Vegas companies and casinos that employ 44,000 union members.

The new contracts will allow the unions and it members to turn their attention to winning contracts with two outlier casino operations that have stubbornly refused to recognize their workers’ right to bargain collectively–The Cosmopolitan and Station Casinos.

“We are pleased that we have settled new contracts with our major employers that will allow union members to have an opportunity to provide for their families through hard work under a fair contract,” said Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union. “We will make sure that other casino workers in Las Vegas who aspire to the same union standard of living will be able to join our union family soon.”

The latest contracts follow a pattern set in previous negotiations between the unions and casino owners. The agreements protect workers health care and pension benefits that were won through many hard years of struggle.

Under the terms of the new contract, union members will continue to pay no premiums for a health plan that covers family members as well as the workers themselves. Co-pays and other expenses will remain low.

The agreements capped off more than a year of negotiations between the unions and the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip and downtown.

Casino workers have been working under the terms of the old contract that expired in June 2013.

When the contract expired, the workers agreed to keep working and the unions and the casinos agreed to continue bargaining.

After negotiations with some of the casinos stalled, members in February voted to authorize a strike. After the strike authorization vote, the members kept working but established informational picket lines at selected casinos.

“We had to do a lot of hard work inside and outside our hotel to get our new contract,” said Monica Muniguia, a housekeeper at Paris, one of the hotel/casinos that agreed to a new contract. “We are now ready to support The Cosmopolitan workers and the workers at Stations Casinos to win their fights too.

The Cosmopolitan was formerly owned by Deutsche Bank of Germany, but in May it was sold to the Blackstone Group, the world’s largest private equity firm.

After The Cosmopolitan opened in 2010, management recognized the unions but refused to sign contracts that paid union wages and benefits.

That precipitated a long campaign for a contract with union wages and benefits at The Cosmopolitan. In November 3,000 union members staged a sit-in in front of The Cosmopolitan and 120 were arrested.

Station Casinos operates 17 casinos in the Las Vegas area located away from the Strip and downtown. It’s the third largest private employer in Las Vegas.

It is owned by the Fertitta brothers, Frank and Lorenzo, in partnership with Deutsche Bank.

In 2007, the Fertitta brothers added $3.3 billion dollars to Station’s debt load in order to take the company private.

In 2009, the enormous debt load caused the company to declare bankruptcy.

By the time Station had emerged from bankruptcy in 2010, it had trimmed its workforce by 20 percent and forced a wage freeze and benefit cuts on those who remained on the job.

That led some Station workers to consider joining a union. After a successful public organizing campaign, more than half of Station’s eligible workers signed a union representation petition.

Instead of bargaining, Station mounted an aggressive anti-union campaign. In 2012, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Station committed 88 acts of unfair labor practices. An administrative law judge upheld the ruling.

According to the Culinary Workers Union, “Station Casinos (also) spent millions of dollars on a citywide anti-union multimedia blitz – with an almost non-stop stream of TV commercials, mailers, full-page newspaper ads, and billboards – in order to thwart the workers’ organizing drive.”

Despite the resistance, the organizing drive at Station has endured, and the two unions can now focus more of their attention and resources on helping Station workers win a union contract.


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