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First picket on Las Vegas Strip in 10 years begins

Hannah Dreier, Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Sin City's largest, most powerful union began picketing the Las Vegas Strip on Thursday for the first time in a decade.

Culinary Union spokeswoman Yvanna Cancela said labor leaders had reached an impasse with Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas owner Deutsche Bank after 18 months of negotiations to establish a contract. At issue are wages, health care and job security.

The 2-year-old Cosmopolitan, which was built by the German investment bank after its original developer defaulted, is one of just a handful of non-unionized casinos on the Strip. A majority of Cosmopolitan service workers signed cards in 2010 saying they wanted representation.

Culinary Union members enjoy free health care and a living wage. Housekeepers in most Strip hotels start at $16 an hour and receive a pension.

Cosmopolitan service employees have proposed a wage freeze in negotiations, but neither party has agreed to it. If a contract were approved, they would be the largest group of organized Deutsche Bank employees outside of Germany, according to a union press release.

Cosmopolitan spokeswoman Amy Rossetti said the company understands that workers have a right to picket.

"The Cosmopolitan has been negotiating in good faith and will continue to do so," she said in a statement.

The 54,000 member union has not picketed the Strip since 2003, when it was seeking to represent workers at the Aladdin, which is now the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.

Christopher Eck, who works as a server at one of the Cosmopolitan's 24-hour restaurants, said Deutsche Bank is loath to give workers a contract because the bank is planning its exit strategy from the Las Vegas investment it never planned to make. If workers remain non-unionized, a new owner could fire them at will or slash wages.

"With our contract, they would have to buy not only Cosmopolitan, but they'd buy its employees as well," said Eck, who has worked at Strip casinos for nine years.

Unions have long flourished in Las Vegas, making the right-to-work state one of the last bastions of labor strength.

The fast-growing Culinary Workers Local 226 famously went on strike for six years in the 1990s against a casino that resisted organizing and has since been imploded.

It now represents workers at most large Strip casinos. Exceptions include the Palazzo and Venetian, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and the Palms.

Eck said the likelihood that the Cosmopolitan will get a new owner was a main motivating factor for the picket.

"With a contract, you can actually have a life and a good income, a future for retirement and not have fear of losing your job because something gets sold," he said.


Hannah Dreier can be reached at https://twitter.com/hannahdreier