Culinary Union leaders hold first meetings with workers

Culinary union leaders held their first series of meetings with Strip and downtown workers Thursday to map out plans for negotiations for new contracts covering some 60,000 employees.

The economic portion of the union contracts for hotel and restaurant employees from Culinary Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 at casinos owned by MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corp. and downtown resorts, expire in June.

The full contracts covering workers at the Stratosphere, Binion’s, Tropicana Las Vegas and the Margaritaville portion of the Flamingo also expire in June.

Contracts covering workers at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore expire in 2013.

“The meeting is to lay out what the year looks like for the union,” said Yvanna Cancela, political director for the Culinary. “We want to give the membership a serious look ahead of what 2012 will be like.”

The meeting was closed to the media.

Five years ago, the union reached contract agreements on the Strip that called for
3.7 percent annual wage increases over the life of the deal. The negotiations with MGM Resorts in 2007, which at the time was building CityCenter and planning a hotel-casino resort complex on the north end of Strip, stretched into August. The recession caused MGM Resorts to cancel the north Strip project.

The current contracts were negotiated before the Southern Nevada economy tanked and the gaming market suffered. Many casino companies laid off employees during the recession.

Gaming sources said the casino companies may seek some concessions from the union as the industry recovers from three years of flat or declining gaming revenues.

Last fall, several Culinary representatives from Las Vegas traveled to Atlantic City to help leaders of its affiliate union negotiate new contracts along the Boardwalk. Casino operators sought concessions in a market that experienced its first single-month gaming revenue increase in December following 3½ years of monthly declines.

New three-year deals were reached in October and November with six casinos operated by Caesars Entertainment and Trump Entertainment that did not cut pay or require a higher contribution to the cost of their health insurance or pensions. The casinos had sought those concessions.

The Borgata has a contract that runs through September .

Besides discussing negotiation plans, Cancela said the Culinary leaders wanted to get input from their Las Vegas members.

“This is going to be a busy year for the union,” Grisel Hernandez, a 12-year housekeeper at Mandalay Bay said in a statement released by the union. “I’m ready to do whatever it takes. Vegas is and always will be a union town.”

In addition to the contract talks, Cancela said the Culinary will continue its campaign to organize workers at Station Casinos and will become involved in the 2012 elections.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.
Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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