Harrah’s, union sign deal

After a marathon negotiating session, Harrah’s Entertainment early Friday became the first casino operator to reach a tentative accord on a new collective bargaining agreement with the state’s largest labor union.

Terms and details of the new contract, which covers some 15,000 workers represented by Culinary Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 at Harrah’s Las Vegas, Caesars Palace, Bally’s, Paris Las Vegas, Flamingo and the Rio, were not released by the union or Harrah’s.

The tentative agreement was negotiated by representatives of Harrah’s and a committee of rank-and-file members of the Culinary and Bartenders unions employed at the different Harrah’s properties.

Harrah’s employees will hear details of the contract proposal today during two separate meetings at Paris Las Vegas. A vote on ratifying the contract will take place after each meeting. Culinary officials said they expect to have results by early in the evening.

“The tentative agreement was overwhelmingly approved and recommended by our negotiating committee, which had several hundred members,” Culinary spokeswoman Pilar Weiss said.

A spokeswoman for Harrah’s said the company would not comment until after the ratification vote.

The agreement was struck after the two sides, which had been negotiating since April, reached a settlement following almost 15 hours of talks.

The deal was signed around 6:30 a.m.

“Harrah’s was committed to maintaining and strengthening the Las Vegas dream for our members, and we hope that others in Nevada will see the example they have set,” Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said in a statement.

Five-year contracts covering some 50,000 Strip and downtown hotel-casino workers expired on May 31 despite early negotiations and optimistic attitudes by both the union and resort executives. After the contracts expired, companies extended the old agreements until new pacts could be negotiated.

Culinary officials are hoping a deal with Harrah’s might pave the way for an agreement with MGM Mirage, the other large casino operator with 21,000 employees covered by the Culinary contract.

Friday evening, several hundred MGM Mirage workers and other Culinary members drove down the Strip in cars to encourage other companies to negotiate new collective bargaining agreements.

“We just want to call attention to the Las Vegas dream,” Weiss said.

MGM Mirage spokesman Gordon Absher said the company is interested in seeing the details of the Harrah’s agreement.

“Our financial analysts will spend the upcoming days going over the numbers,” Absher said via e-mail. “What we do know is that the union has apparently broken the longstanding tradition of pattern bargaining with Strip resort companies. Rather than continue the practice that has brought considerable success to both sides of these negotiations, it appears the union is now comfortable negotiating separate deals with each different company.”

With MGM Mirage, however, the biggest hindrance to a new deal has been language that would allow the Culinary to freely organize workers on development projects where the company has a joint venture agreement.

Absher said MGM Mirage was hopeful the company would soon reach a deal with the union.

“We will continue to negotiate in good faith and will take the time necessary to explore these new factors and utilize them to identify the most mutually beneficial situation for our company and our employees,” Absher said.

The five-year agreements between the Culinary and some of the gaming industry’s largest casinos covered wages, benefits, health-care plans and worker training.

In 2005, the Culinary signed a 10-year collective bargaining pact with Wynn Las Vegas. Gaming sources thought the financial portions of the new contract would most likely mirror the Wynn agreement, which has cost of living increases built into the deal.

Union leaders in February called for early negotiations in an effort to reach new agreements in a corporate landscape that had changed since the two sides last bargained in 2002. Several gaming companies were absorbed by competitors while several casinos went through ownership and management changes. Harrah’s, for example, is being bought out in $17.1 billion private equity deal.

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