|By Richard N. Velotta, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 11, 2013--About 1,000 members of the city's Culinary and Bartenders unions jammed the theater at Cashman Center this morning to devise strategies for upcoming negotiations to renew contracts with 41 Strip and downtown resorts.
Current contracts with the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Beverage and Dispensers Union Local 165 expire June 1.
Renewals are up for all MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment properties, as well as most downtown hotels.
The unions also will negotiate for their first contract with the Cosmopolitan.
Union representatives briefed the media before the meeting, but did not allow reporters at the strategy session.
Today's rally was the first gathering in anticipation of new contract talks, which some workers expect to be difficult.
"It's so important that we maintain the current contracts, and that's what's in jeopardy right now," said Dunnunique Ahmad, a union worker in Aria's housekeeping department. "We fear the current benefits status we have now will change. It's important for both the union and the corporations to work together to maintain it."
Ahmad said workers understand that the resorts are still recovering from the hard times of the recession, but it's also important that employees be allowed to maintain their quality of life.
"We know that the economy is picking back up," Ahmad said. "If we continue to sit down with management, hammer out the details, that's what we're looking forward to."
Gloria Delgado, a union member who works in the housekeeping department at the Rio, said, "We want to make sure we're prepared for whatever's coming. It's all about maintaining the standard of living."
A spokesman for Caesars Entertainment said he is optimistic that negotiations will go well.
"We've always had a good relationship with the Culinary in Las Vegas," said Gary Thompson, a spokeman for the company. "In the past, they've worked with the casino industry and always took into consideration some of the challenges of the industry. When we've had differences of opinion, we work to find solutions that hopefully are mutually beneficial."
While neither union representatives nor casino officials discussed specific contract negotiating points, the two sides are expected to discuss the new health care environment brought about by reforms in federal legislation and concessions during the recession.
Earlier this year, the unions settled an economic extension package with Strip employers, but a number of downtown properties have not reached an agreement.
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