Tuesday, Sept. 29, 1998 | 1:45 a.m.
The Santa Fe hotel-casino in Northwest Las Vegas sits miles from the Las Vegas Strip.
And the the company that owns it and the Culinary Union are just about as far apart in terms of reaching a labor agreement.
About 59 union members were arrested Monday at the hotel-casino after staging a sit-down strike inside the hotel.
Santa Fe workers voted for union representation five years ago, but the parties have yet to come to terms on a labor pact. Wages and benefit are the prime obstacles to reaching an agreement.
The union is seeking wages comparable to those on the Strip, something the Santa Fe says it can't afford. For most jobs, the union and the hotel-casino are anywhere from $2 to $4 per hour apart.
For example, the union is seeking a $12.58 per hour wage for bartenders, while the company's proposal is for $8.75 per hour. Current wages are between $8.25 and $8.57 per hour.
Moreover, the union is seeking health insurance coverage for its members similar to agreements with Strip hotel-casinos where the companies pick up the tab for their workers. The company offers two plans, one for $33.60 per month for a single worker and $48 per month for family coverage. The second plan costs individual workers $79 per month and $93 per month for a family.
"That's substantial money when you're a kitchen worker making $6 an hour," said union representative Kara Kelly.
Andre Carrier, Santa Fe vice president of administration, declined to discuss details of the negotiations.
The union understands the difficulty of a neighborhood casino matching Strip wages and benefits, Kelly said. She said the union would be open to phased-in increases.
"We just can't walk away from that because it will lower the standard of living for the whole city," Kelly said.
Workers there say they want to improve conditions for themselves and their co-workers rather than move to a hotel that already has a union contract.
"You end up making friends, making good relationships with co-workers and you decide you want to stay," said Santa Fe worker Juan Salazar.
Santa Fe spokesman Andrew Klebanow reiterated past company statements that it is negotiating in good faith and is living up to "the spirit and the letter of the law." Klebanow said the hotel-casino supports citizens' rights to protest but was puzzled by the union's actions.
Monday wasn't the first time this year the union has antagonized the hotel-casino outside the negotiating room. In May, the union launched a telephone campaign featuring a recorded message asking slot and video poker players if they thought they could win with a company that lost $8.4 million the previous six months. Santa Fe officials said at that time the loss was a "paper loss" of the hotel-casino's parent company, Santa Fe Gaming Corp.
Workers at the hotel-casino voted for union representation by a 40-vote margin in October 1993. The company challenged the vote, but the tally was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1996.
Negotiations are scheduled to continue Oct. 13.