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Culinary union moves closer to strike

LAS VEGAS --Hotel and casino workers have moved a step closer to walking out on the picket line at several Las Vegas resorts.

In two meetings Wednesday, members of the Culinary Workers and Bartenders Unions voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike at the 14 casinos and two industrial laundries with which the union is negotiating new contracts. The move allows a negotiating committee to call for a strike, or other action, if contract settlements aren't reached.

The vote covers 10,000 workers and applies to 12 casinos in downtown Las Vegas and two properties on the Las Vegas Strip, the Tropicana, with about 800 union workers and the Las Vegas Hilton, with 1,800.

"We hope that the affected companies see this vote as a wake-up call," Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said in a statement issued Wednesday. "Our goal is to return to the negotiating table and achieve fair, new contracts that protect the Las Vegas dream for every member of this union, whether they work downtown, on the Strip, in the casinos, or in the laundries."

The union represents 60,000 service workers in Nevada. This summer it successfully negotiated contracts with its largest employers, MGM Mirage Inc. and Harrah's Entertainment. The union says it wants to preserve its health coverage and retirement benefits, and improve opportunities for upward mobility.

Las Vegas Hilton spokesman Ira Sternberg said the casino was hopeful about the tenor of the contract talks.

"We're having productive discussions with the Culinary Union and we hope to reach an agreement soon," Sternberg said.

The union last went on strike in May 2002 over its contract with the Golden Gate casino in downtown Las Vegas. The strike lasted eight days before the casino and the union signed a settlement.

The latest labor dispute has the potential to ripple throughout the Las Vegas tourism industry. The two industrial laundries that have not settled with the union -- Las Vegas-based Al Phillips and North Las Vegas-based Mission Industries -- provide laundry service for most of the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

The Culinary Works Union is affiliated with the Unite Here coalition of garment and hotel workers unions.

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