Dealers OK union

Members of the dealers union organizing committee at Caesars Palace were all hugs and smiles early Sunday morning after their colleagues voted by a 3-to-1 ratio in favor of union representation.

National Labor Relations Board officials counted 380 votes in favor of forming a union, with 128 opposed to union representation by Las Vegas Dealers 721, an affiliate of the New York-based Transport Workers Union of America.

Nearly 92 percent of eligible dealers voted Saturday in an election that was held at Caesars Palace.

"The Caesars dealers, they spoke pretty loud," said Joseph Carbon, lead Transport Workers Union organizer in Las Vegas. "That's a pretty overwhelming victory."

Certification of the vote by the labor board is expected the first week of January.

Only representatives from the labor board and eligible voters were allowed in the voting room during the election.

However, representatives from the union, Caesars Palace and the casino's owner, Harrah's Entertainment, attended the midnight vote count held in the same room as the election, next to a large employee cafeteria.

Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner and five members of his management team, as well as legal counsel from Harrah's Entertainment, attended the vote count that ended at 1 a.m. Sunday.

Selesner shook hands and congratulated the dealers who were present after the result was announced.

However, Selesner declined to discuss the result with the media, issuing a statement through a Harrah's spokeswoman 45 minutes after the count was completed:

"We are disappointed that our dealers chose to be represented by the Transport Workers Union."

The five-month organizing effort was driven by the dealers' desire to have a better channel to discuss their labor concerns with management.

Some dealers believe their concerns about pay, job security and benefits have been largely ignored since the property was bought by Harrah's Entertainment in 2005.

They hope that will change now that management will be forced to the bargaining table.

"We regain our dignity and self-respect," said Shane Kaufmann, a dealer at Caesars Palace for 15 years. "They've treated us like servants since Harrah's arrived."

Another concern was that the property mightfollow the lead of Wynn Las Vegas where certain casino managers were added to the casino's tip-sharing pool in 2006.

Selesner said Friday that management doesn't support the practice.

Representatives of Caesars Palace and the dealers are expected to sit down in the next couple of months to begin working on a collective bargaining agreement.

Ernie Acevedo, a dealer at the property for 15 years and one of the organizers of the union drive, said the election produced some rifts among the dealers, but he hopes that everyone can work together now to get the best deal possible.

"We want to work together to make this a better place for the employees and the hotel," Acevedo said. "We have never been against our employer. We are all loyal employees and we want to keep it that way."

In May, dealers at the Wynn Las Vegas also voted in favor of the union, also by a 3-to-1 ratio, but have yet to negotiate a new contract. The two sides are scheduled to meet again in January.

Contact reporter Arnold Knightly at aknightly or (702) 477-3893.