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Union dealers protest Caesars on Las Vegas Strip

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[September 18, 2009]  LAS VEGAS (AP) -- More than 500 dealers and supporters rallied on the Las Vegas Strip on Thursday in hopes of a contract with the Caesars Palace hotel-casino, but union leaders said they are no closer to a deal with owner Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. after nearly two years of talks.

"It's been basically stonewalled," said James Little, international president of the Transport Workers International Union of America.

"It's not rocket science. There's not a lot there, we're just looking for a fair contract," Little told The Associated Press. "If they want to get a contract, we can do it today. They're just stonewalling the process."

Tourists honked horns from Las Vegas Boulevard while pedestrians carrying drinks snapped photos and wove through streams of union members wearing red T-shirts and chanting in support of the local dealer's branch of the union.

Many supporters were union members from elsewhere, in town for a convention held at another casino-hotel owned by Harrah's. Dozens posed for pictures with each other in front of fountains outside Caesars Palace while holding signs that read "Give Caesars dealers a fair deal" or "Contract Now."

Organizers estimated the crowd was double what they anticipated, and said they quickly ran out of 500 T-shirts given to supporters.

Marybel Batjer, a vice president and spokeswoman for the private casino operator based in Las Vegas, said union negotiators have met at least 25 times with company managers, but have been unavailable for other meetings offered by the company.

"That's been some of what's frustrating and has caused delay because if you can't even get to the table, you can't obviously negotiate," Batjer said.

Shane Kaufmann, a Caesars Palace dealer for 17 years who is helping negotiate the contract for the union, said the dealers want conditions similar to what they worked under before Harrah's bought Caesars Palace in 2005.

"Why don't they give us the conditions we worked under for 40 years," Kaufmann said. "We don't want to be treated special."

Kaufmann denied that union leaders had missed multiple meetings, saying they were unable to meet once last week because they were preparing for this week's convention.

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Kaufmann and Batjer said talks have stalled over various sticking points, including control over tips, union representation during personnel decisions and vacation time.

Batjer said union leaders have rebuffed the company's vacation proposal, which was in line with what other workers at the resort have agreed to under a contract with another union that represents other workers at the hotel, the 60,000 member Culinary union.

Kaufmann said the vacation time was not a major issue, and that the Caesars dealers would be fine with the same vacation allowances as nonunion dealers at other Harrah's casinos in Las Vegas.

The Culinary's parent union, UNITE HERE, announced Thursday it was reuniting with the AFL-CIO. The Transport Workers union, which represents about 200,000 members and retirees in 22 states, is also affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

Little said the Caesars Palace dealers would likely need help from federal lawmakers to get a contract. Union leaders have been pushing the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier to form unions.

A specific portion of the bill would require binding arbitration if a new union and management can't agree on a contract within 120 days. Union leaders in Las Vegas believe the law would directly affect the situation with Caesars Palace.

President Barack Obama has told union leaders he would work to pass the union bill once health care reform is done.

[Associated Press; By OSKAR GARCIA]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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