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June 23, 2018

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Caesars workers in Las Vegas approve new contract deal

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John Locher / AP

In this Jan. 12, 2015 file photo, a man takes pictures of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Unionized workers at the casino-resorts operated by Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas cast ballots Thursday, June 14, 2018, to ratify their newly negotiated five-year contract.

Updated Thursday, June 14, 2018 | 10 p.m.

Housekeepers, bartenders and other unionized workers at Las Vegas casino-resorts operated by Caesars Entertainment approved a new five-year contract, ending the possibility of a strike at those properties.

A few thousand members of the Culinary Union voted in two sessions to ratify an agreement that addresses sexual harassment in the workplace, job security, wage increases and immigration status. The approved contract covers 12,000 workers on the Las Vegas Strip and a nearby property.

Employees of Caesars, one of the largest resort operators in the tourist destination, helped authorize a strike last month over the lack of progress in contract negotiations covering 50,000 union members. The union later reached a tentative deal with Caesars, followed the next day by a separate deal with MGM Resorts International, the other large hotel operator in the city.

The union has declined to provide specifics, but generally, both tentative agreements include wage increases and language that protects the workers' rights in the event that the property is sold.

Some Caesars workers attended the first voting session during their work breaks. A cocktail server walked into the ballroom in her uniform — still carrying a tray — and other workers wore their white chef hats and coats. Others showed their support for the labor organization with red T-shirts.

"I attended the negotiations, and this is the best contract we've reached in the history of the union, especially for (guest room attendants)," Caesars Palace housekeeper Rocio Puente said Thursday. "I'm really happy. We were telling our co-workers yesterday to come vote today."

Puente, who has worked at the casino-resort for 20 years, said she voted in favor of ratifying the contract because it requires all housekeepers be given a wireless device that would allow them to alert security if they are facing a threat.

The agreement also includes language addressing the beneficiaries of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and immigrants allowed to live and work in the U.S. under temporary protective status.

The Trump administration has sought to end DACA, but court orders have kept the program open. It also has announced it will terminate the special protections of thousands of immigrants from several countries.

Under the contract, workers who lose their work permit and are later able to readjust their immigration status will be able to get back their casino jobs and seniority.

"I'm ecstatic about it. This is something we need for our future," said Olee Stewart, a 57-year-old cook at Harrah's who voted in favor of the contract. "I have a mortgage, and (the contract) helps get me to the ending goal: Getting it paid before I retire. This guarantees that I can get to the end of the line on that one."

The average worker on the Las Vegas Strip currently makes about $23 an hour, including benefits such as premium-free health care, a pension and a 401(k) retirement savings plan.

The contract would cover the unionized workers at Caesars' Las Vegas Strip properties: Bally's, Flamingo, Harrah's, Paris, Planet Hollywood, The Cromwell, The Linq and Caesars Palace, including Nobu. The deal also would apply to the off-Strip Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino.

The union is now negotiating contracts with smaller companies that operate 15 properties on the Las Vegas Strip and in downtown Las Vegas, including the Tropicana, Treasure Island and The D. Union negotiators met Thursday with the Golden Nugget operator.