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November 28, 2014

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For Wynn dealers, deal slow to come

Still no contract a year after union vote, but Rio counterparts undaunted

Over the past several months, newly organized dealers at Wynn Las Vegas and Caesars Palace have reached tentative agreements with their employers over contract terms spelling out job procedures, benefits and other basic aspects of the job.

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Breaks? Check.

Stocked vending machines? Check.

Vacation time? Check.

But resolving more sensitive issues having to do with grievances and tip-sharing is testing the ability of the Transport Workers Union to flex its muscle at a time when it’s trying to organize still more dealers, this time at the Rio.

More than a year after dealers at Wynn Las Vegas voted nearly 3-1 for union representation, there’s no sign of a contract. Wynn became the first property to vote in the union after Steve Wynn implemented a controversial plan for dealers to share part of their tips with supervisors. Dealers at Caesars voted for union representation in December, and Rio dealers will vote July 12.

Joseph Carbon, director of Transport Workers Union Local 721, said it’s not unusual for first contracts to take at least a year.

“I know that we’re the new kids on the block in gaming, but this is expected,” even when workers are already unionized elsewhere, Carbon said. “We’re here to stay.”

Neither casino management nor the union will reveal particulars of their negotiations.

“We continue to meet with the TWU regularly and negotiate in good faith,” Wynn spokeswoman Jennifer Dunne said.

Gary Thompson, spokesman for Caesars and Rio owner Harrah’s Entertainment, added: “We continue to negotiate in good faith, but won’t discuss details of the talks.”

Any frustration among dealers at Wynn or Caesars Palace pales in comparison with what is playing out in Atlantic City, where dealers are represented by the United Auto Workers. Labor groups are criticizing Tropicana and Caesars in Atlantic City for dragging their feet in contract talks, and negotiations at two other casinos haven’t even begun because management is contesting the election results.

Gaming insiders say it’s unlikely that Wynn will reverse his tip policy — the central concern of Wynn dealers. And greater job security, a top concern at Caesars and the Rio, won’t be an easy sell for any of the casinos, which covet the ability to fire employees at will for infractions of varying severity.

It’s never been easy, winning a contract for organized dealers in this town.

About eight years ago, dealers at several Strip casinos voted for representation by the Transport Workers Union — only to cut bait with the union two years later because no contracts had been signed.

Wynn dealers promise to stick with a union this time because their earnings are at stake with the tip-sharing policy.

Rio dealer Debbie Bradley is hoping to organize under the Transport Workers Union even if it hasn’t struck a contract at Wynn and Caesars Palace.

“They say they have no plans to take our tokes, but companies are always making plans,” Bradley said of Rio management. “We need to protect what we have now.”

Executives at MGM Mirage have forwarded written promises to dealers not to have them share their tips with floor managers, and Bellagio dealers recently got a raise — a rarity for workers whose base wages are little more than the federal minimum. And Thompson said his company has “never contemplated” a change to its tip policy.

Still, some dealers at Caesars and Rio say they have more reason to worry: the possibility of dramatic staff cuts now that Harrah’s is privately held, and in the future, should the company change hands again.

In recent months, MGM Mirage has laid off more workers in Las Vegas than has Harrah’s, according to the companies’ estimates.

Besides concern over tip sharing, Rio workers say they worry about changes in their health care and retirement plans.

Roulette dealer David Fehrman said he resents what he calls “micromanaging” bosses who are requiring dealers to use players’ names in conversation, to tout restaurants and other hotel attractions to players and to “high-five” their wins.

“There’s a lot of pressure when you’re dealing high-stakes games. And now I’ve got to worry that I’ll get written up for not high-fiving a player while I’m trying to pay off players and people are grabbing chips off the table,” said Fehrman, who started at the Rio when it opened in 1990.

Thompson’s response: “No one enjoys sitting at a table with a grouchy dealer, and dealers who smile and otherwise engage with their customers generally earn higher tips.”

Fehrman said his top priority is keeping his job.

“Even after 18 years of commendable service in the business I go to work worried every day,” Fehrman said. “I want this to be my last job. But the only way I can do that is with a union.”

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