labor New Orleans: Hospitality Union, Teamsters, Quietly Negotiating Contract With Harrahs
A pair of labor unions have for the last six months been quietly negotiating a contract with Harrah's Hotel and Casino that, when inked, would double the size of organized labor's tiny footprint in the New Orleans tourism economy.
The contract would apply to employees dedicated to the hotel and food service operations, about 900 of Harrah's more than 2,000 employees.
The local Teamsters Union will represent the 150 or so employees who work the front of the hotel, bellmen, valets and front desk workers, as well as those in the hotel's warehouse. Unite Here, a hospitality union, will represent the remaining 750 employees, who work in housekeeping and food service.
The contract will not apply to table-game dealers or those in the corporate offices.
About 70 percent of eligible employees expressed interest in union representation during a formal card check held in March, giving the unions legal authority to begin negotiations, said Scott Cooper, director and secretary-treasurer of Unite Here's New Orleans local.
The successful card check is a coup for Unite Here. Essentially the only union presence in New Orleans' sprawling tourism industry, Unite Here has just three contracts in the city, including one at the Loews Hotel, the only New Orleans hotel besides Harrah's that recognizes a union. The addition of Harrah's increases the number of employees under its New Orleans umbrella from 600 to 1,350.
There are an estimated 70,000 tourism-related jobs in the New Orleans area.
It also marks new territory for the Teamsters in New Orleans. Dave Negrotto, president of the local, said this marks its first foray into the hospitality business. A small contract at Louis Armstrong International Airport is the Teamsters only other tourism-related presence, he said.
Negrotto said that, hopefully, this is only the beginning of a trend toward more union density in the hospitality industry. "Hospitality workers are a huge part of the city (economy) and one that could really use a boost," he said.
Unite Here's success at Harrah's may have been at least partly the result of the union's longstanding relationship Caesars Entertainment, Harrah's parent company. Nationwide, Unite Here represents over 20,000 Caesars employees.
Thus far, at least, negotiations seem to have been amicable, with both sides pledging continued good will.
"We commend Harrah's in New Orleans and their leadership in agreeing to a fair process for organizing, and we look forward to a positive labor-management relationship that we believe will build upon the record of customer service relations that is already here," Cooper said.
"We have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Unite Here," said Gary Thompson, a spokesman for Caesars, "We look forward to a continuation of that in New Orleans."
Asked whether the company was concerned about the ability to remain profitable in New Orleans, given the near certainty that wages will rise under a union contract, Thompson declined to comment, citing an agreement it signed with the unions to remain neutral during the negotiations.
Not wishing to poison the well either, Cooper declined to give specifics on the current wage system in place at Harrah's. However, he said that an entry-level cook at Harrah's New Orleans can expect $11 per hour. In Mississippi, where Unite Here has several contracts, $13-$14 per hour is the prevailing wage, he said.
It remains to be seen whether the Harrah's contract is a harbinger of future labor gains. A massive push in the late 1990s and early 2000s met with limited success.
New Orleans' paltry union presence makes it an outlier in the American tourism economy, Cooper said.
In Las Vegas, for example, 90 percent of the major hotels use organized labor, he said. In New York, union density runs about 70-80 percent in he hospitality industry.
Whether Harrah's is the first of many or a one-off will be up to the workers of the city, Cooper said.
The Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association declined to comment.