Striking members of the culinary union, right, argued with a man who crossed their picket line to enter the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas yesterday.

Vegas casino workers
picket Fremont Street

Waikiki hotels picketed

By Lisa Snedeker
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS >> Bullhorns blared across the Fremont Street Experience yesterday as striking union workers insulted nonunion workers and implored tourists not to enter the city's oldest hotel-casino.

Culinary Local 226 and Bartender's Local 165 workers at the Golden Gate hotel-casino walked off the job at 6 p.m. Monday after contract negotiations broke down with owner Mark Brandenburg.

It's the first hotel-casino strike the city has seen since workers struck the Las Vegas Strip's Frontier in September 1991, launching the city's longest hotel strike that lasted more than six years until January 1998.

Meanwhile, yesterday's negotiations brought a tentative agreement for a new union contract at downtown's Western Hotel and Bingo Hall, that less than 48 hours earlier had announced it might be forced to close by Sept. 11.

The majority of downtown hotel-casinos avoided a walkout by about 5,000 union workers by agreeing to a compromise five-year deal that will cost operators about a third less than Las Vegas Strip operators agreed to in May.

One reason Golden Gate's 165 union workers are picketing is they say they haven't received a 40-cent wage increase they were due in December under the terms of the old contract that expired at midnight Sunday. The union is in arbitration over the increase.

Brandenburg said he couldn't afford to give workers the raise because downtown's financial struggles were exacerbated by Sept. 11.

"We also can't afford what has been described as the richest contract in downtown history," he said of the $2.20- an-hour increase in wages and benefits for employees over the next five years. Workers at 22 major Strip resorts will get about $1 more.

Historically the Golden Gate has been the last among the downtown properties to sign a contract because it's the smallest, employing just 380 workers, Brandenburg said.

"We're just so different," said the attorney whose family operates the 106-room downtown hotel. It first opened in 1906.

Adriana Mora, a Golden Gate cocktail server for 12 years, said the hotel's union workers were asking for an increase only in their health and welfare benefits.

"We're not even asking for a raise," said the 36-year-old mother of two and union committee member. "But he (Brandenburg) refused to pay into the pension plan or the health plan. He wants us to pay into his plan."

Mora was one of about two dozen pickets -- who are being paid $200 a week by the union to walk the line five days a week for four hours a day -- marching, chanting and yelling insults of "losers and scabs" to patrons and employees entering and exiting the hotel in the downtown entertainment complex under the Fremont Street canopy.

The Golden Gate is the lone holdout among 35 casinos on the Strip and downtown that have negotiated contracts with the union since April.

At the 116-room Western, owned by downtown gambling pioneer Jackie Gaughan, the tentative contract mirroring that of the Las Vegas Club, also owned by Gaughan, would protect the hotel's 90 union members' health and pension benefits for five years, said Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor.

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