Culinary parent UNITE HERE rejoins AFL-CIO, ending four-year separation

The parent union of Las Vegas labor giant Culinary Local 226 has rejoined the national AFL-CIO Thursday after a four-year split.

The division was never felt in Nevada. Culinary leaders and the Nevada leadership of other affiliates whose parent organizations split from the AFL-CIO nationally, continued to work with the 165,000-member Nevada AFL-CIO.

“We made a decision with the Culinary to always stay affiliated,” Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO, said Thursday. “There is strength in numbers.”

The 265,000-member UNITE HERE said it was rejoining the national organization Thursday at the AFL-CIO Convention in Pittsburgh.

UNITE HERE broke away from the AFL-CIO in July 2005 to join the Change to Win group of unions, which was part of an effort to push for reforms in the AFL-CIO.

In a statement Thursday, UNITE HERE International President John Wilhelm said his organization’s 265,000 members “belong in the House of Labor.”

Wilhelm credited the election of President Barack Obama last year with unifying divisions within the organized labor movement.

“We are at a turning point in American history with the most pro-worker president in our lifetimes who, with labor’s help, is attempting against great odds to rebalance an economy unfairly weighted in favor of the rich and powerful,” Wilhelm said.

Culinary Local 226 represents some 60,000 restaurant and hotel workers in Las Vegas and is the union’s largest affiliate. The Culinary represents workers at hotel-casinos owned by Harrah’s Entertainment, MGM Mirage, Las Vegas Hilton, Tropicana, Riviera, Sahara and Planet Hollywood Resort.

In June, workers at the MGM Grand represented by the Culinary and its affiliate, Bartenders Local 165, ratified a new five-year collective bargaining agreement that is similar to other Strip resort contracts ratified before the current economic downturn.

Workers at Strip casinos approved a plan to defer this year’s raises until next June 1 to help resorts deal with the economic recession’s impact on their business. The agreement extended the contracts an extra year to 2013.

Wilhelm said UNITE HERE’s return to the AFL-CIO fold coincided with the election of Richard Trumka as the organization’s new president.

“While every union will make its own decision, we hope the labor movement continues to move toward total unity,” Wilhelm said.

In a statement, Trumka welcomed UNITE HERE back to the organization.

“A united labor movement will serve the interests of working people during this time of incredible opportunity and progress,” he said.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.

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