LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Terry Getler, a bellman at the MGM Grand since the property's opening in 1993, isn't disappointed a new collective bargaining agreement has yet to be reached between the hotel and the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 despite more than three months of negotiations.
He expected it.
Getler has participated as member of the union's negotiating committee since the MGM Grand first signed a union contract. The most recent talks and Thursday's midnight expiration of the current five-year agreement have followed a historical course, he said.
"I know the lifestyle, the attitudes and the process," Getler said Friday at the Culinary union hall before Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate, addressed about 300 union members and gave them words of encouragement about their continuing negotiations.
Getler said workers are concerned about wages, benefits and health care coverage, and also long-term issues that will affect future employees, such as allowing workers at joint ventures operated by MGM Grand's parent company, MGM Mirage, to join the union.
"Every negotiation becomes contentious," Getler said. "It always seems like we get our issues out on the table and for the company, it's wait and see. It can be frustrating for some of the guys who are involved in the negotiating process for the first time."
Getler's sentiments were expressed by other Culinary union members who are on the negotiating teams for other Strip and downtown casinos. Despite the Culinary's call in February for early negotiations and contract resolutions before the old agreements expire, it was doubtful new deals could be hammered out by the deadline.
Both MGM Mirage and Harrah's Entertainment, which have casinos that make up the bulk of the Strip's unionized properties, granted extensions to the expired agreements and vowed to continue negotiations. The expired contracts in total covered more than 50,000 Strip and downtown hotel-casino workers.
Getler said the union striking an agreement with casinos owned by MGM Mirage, which would cover about 21,000 of the Culinary workers, might help spur agreements at other Strip resorts.
Union members said they were glad, however, that the talks led to contract extensions at most properties.
"I'm happy we got the extension, and I'm sure the entire valley is happy about the extension as well," said Leain Vashon, a bellman at Paris Las Vegas since the casino's 1999 opening. Before getting that position, he was a bellman at Bally's Las Vegas, Paris' sister resort.
"I feel like we're making progress," Vashon said. "If we weren't, then I'm sure everyone would hear about it. These are complicated negotiations and it takes time. There are a lot of issues to be ironed out. You don't want to rush in and get a contract done just to get it done early. You want to get it done correctly."
Judy Bagley, a 27-year cashier at Fitzgeralds, said that unlike Strip resorts, the downtown casino has yet to have a negotiating session. She said it's not a problem that the downtown properties are waiting until the Strip deals are reached.
"We've heard they have made progress but not as much as we would have hoped," Bagley said.
Excalibur bellman Darian Berry, a vice president with union who has been at the resort for 15 years, said changes in the gaming industry over recent years have played a role in slowing the negotiating process.
"The industry has become more complicated in the last 20 years," Berry said. "The issues, such as third party agreements, are important to the workers. We would have loved to have something done by the deadline, but with the way the negotiations have gone, I think we were happy just to get the extension."
Evelyn Hernandez, a hostess at the Nine Fine Irishman pub inside New York-New York, brought her 5-year-old daughter, Vanessa, to the meeting to hear Obama. She said having the candidates come to the Culinary union hall have put negotiations on the national radar.
"Our main focus has been getting a new contract and having their support is great," Hernandez said.
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