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October 21, 2014

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Aladdin owners avoid battle, OK Culinary’s card check

Aladdin's new owners agreed Friday to recognize the Culinary Union, more than a year after a majority of the property's 1,600 maids, porters and food-service workers signed union cards.

The Culinary Union officially became the union of record for Aladdin's hotel and restaurant workers after the owners agreed to recognize the union through a card-check procedure.

"We plan to be a serious player on the Strip," said Aladdin co-owner Robert Earl. "We don't need to have any fights for the sake of a fight. The workers wanted this and we gave it to them straight away."

The hotel and restaurant employees signed union cards at least a year ago but the resort's previous owners had refused to recognize the signatures, said D. Taylor, secretary and treasurer of the Culinary Union.

On Sept. 1, OpBiz LLC, a partnership including Earl, the co-founder and chief executive of Planet Hollywood International Inc.; Bay Harbor Management LC; and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc., bought the Aladdin out of bankruptcy from the Sommer Family Trust and London Clubs International Plc.

Earl said OpBiz began discussions with the union the same day it took over the resort. All of the partners and Mike Mecca, OpBiz president and chief executive, made the decision to welcome the union, he said.

Negotiations between Aladdin officials and the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and its sister Bartenders Union Local 165 are expected to begin next year toward a contract. More than 1,100 workers signed union cards -- more than the majority required under federal labor rules.

The move, for now, ends a contentious and uncertain relationship between the Aladdin and the Culinary Union, which tried unsuccessfully in years past to organize workers.

The Culinary Union put steady pressure on the property to recognize the union in advance of the takeover. The Culinary protested several times in front of the property while the partners went through regulatory background checks, including a Strip demonstration with the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The union also distributed unflattering information about Planet Hollywood and Earl, including a Web site that detailed how Planet Hollywood had twice emerged from bankruptcy. The site questioned how a partnership with Earl could transform the troubled Aladdin into a profitable enterprise.

Earl said he wasn't personally offended by the union's comments and said they were aimed at "getting our attention" during a heated period.

"I put them down to part of the game," he said. "The approach (the union) took before we became the owner was not even a factor in our consideration."

Taylor said the union is looking foward, not backward.

"I think workers are looking forward to a very productive relationship with the new company," he said.

The new Aladdin partnership had made no commitment to recognize the union previous to taking over the property and could have taken a different tack, Taylor said.

Instead, he said, "they looked up and down the Strip and they saw very successful companies that were union. The workers also indicated very strongly that they wanted to be union. They decided, 'Let's make this business successful and let's have workers on board.' "

The Aladdin is the only major Strip property besides the Venetian that doesn't have a contract with the Culinary Union, the largest local of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union in the country. The union recently merged with UNITE, a service workers union, to form UNITE HERE.

The former owners, U.K.-based London Clubs International, refused to recognize a card check procedure and instead said the property would recognize the union through a secret-ballot election.

The Culinary Union has historically organized Strip properties using a card check rather than a secret ballot method, which is the preferred method for many companies. Companies like the Venetian have criticized the union for bullying or deceiving workers into signing union cards, but the union says companies can thwart secret ballot voting by launching intimidation campaigns prior to a vote.

OpBiz is about three months into a 15-month process of transforming the 2,567-room resort into the first-ever Planet Hollywood hotel and casino.

Under Earl, the property hopes to sign on a major entertainer to the resort, develop a movie theme and attract celebrities.

Earl said the partnership has recently focused on installing Starwood in hotel management and is finalizing plans with its design and architecture team. The Aladdin will open as a Planet Hollywood resort sometime in early 2006, he said.

In the meantime, the property has added new menus in its restaurants, increased its entertainment offerings and expects to make a splash for the New Year's holiday, Mecca said.

"We have 3,000 excited team members who are doing a fantastic job," he said. "Our guests have told us we've been successful with that, that there's a new energy and excitement at the Aladdin."

Taylor said the Aladdin must reinvest capital in the resort to remain competitive on the Strip.

"If you don't reinvest you die," he said.

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