Unions combine to put pressure on U.S. casinos

ATLANTIC CITY — Four of the nation’s largest labor unions will team to kick-start stalled contract talks with casinos in four states, starting with New Jersey, officials announced Monday.

The United Auto Workers, the AFL-CIO, the Transport Workers Union and the Service Employees International Union are forming a Gaming Workers’ Council, designed to put the combined muscle of 15 million union members behind casino unionization drives across the country.

The council will concentrate on dragged-out contract talks in Atlantic City but will also try to revive stalled negotiations in Nevada, Indiana and Connecticut.

The UAW has won representation elections at four Atlantic City casinos but has not reached a contract with any of them after two years of bargaining.

“We voted for the right and won the right to be at the table,” said Sharon Masino, a dealer at Caesars Atlantic City. “But instead of security, we have insecurity. We don’t have a contract; management can do what they want.

“They’ve been cutting back on our benefits, and they’re trying to cut back on our 401k.”

Masino said she spends $110 per week on health insurance coverage and still has $7,000 in unpaid medical bills. To cut costs, her husband has been taking only half the required dosage of prescription medication to treat seizures and recently suffered another attack because of it, she said.

“This is how Caesars is treating its employees, while our CEO made $15 million in compensation,” she said. “I’m quite sure no one in his household is cutting their pills in half to get by.”

A spokeswoman for Caesars’ parent company, Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., did not return messages seeking comment.

In Las Vegas, the Transport Workers Union has been in talks with Wynn Las Vegas and Caesars Palace for nearly two years, said union Vice President Harry Lombardo.

“If we are to best represent workers in the gaming industry, unions need to take a national and perhaps global approach, and that is exactly what we are doing today,” he said.

The council plans to conduct publicity campaigns, lobby elected officials, stage rallies and conduct other activities aimed at pressuring casino owners to reach agreements with the unions.

In Atlantic City, the UAW has won elections at Caesars, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, the Tropicana Casino and Resort, and Bally’s Atlantic City.

The union has authorized a strike at the Tropicana but has held off in carrying it out. Elizabeth Bunn, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer, would not address the likelihood of a walkout. She said only that “the best way to avoid a strike is to have a fair contract.”

Elsewhere, contract talks are ongoing at Casino Aztar in Evansville, Ind., and at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Conn.

Tina Phillips, a casino cashier at the MGM Grand Detroit, which signed a contract with its casino floor workers, said things are going well there.

“Our contract has good wages and benefits,” she said. “We get a raise every year. We pay $10 co-pays for doctor visits and $5 for prescription drugs. Detroit casinos are a success. Our message to Atlantic City and Las Vegas is: We did it and so can you.”

John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, said it is in the casinos’ best interest to reach contracts with their workers.

“Companies that are at war with their employees are not helping themselves survive,” he said. “In hard times, you need all the friends you can get.”

Sweeney said the AFL-CIO recently canceled a convention it had planned to host at the Paris Las Vegas “because of Harrah’s anti-union behavior.”

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