The nation's second-largest teachers union has a message for Harrah's Entertainment Inc.: It's taking its business elsewhere.
In a letter sent to Harrah's CEO Gary Loveman, the American Federation of Teachers, or AFT, said it will stop conducting business with Harrah's as long as the company's dealers in Atlantic City remain without a first-ever union contract.
Dealers at two Harrah's-owned properties, Bally's Atlantic City and Caesars Atlantic City, voted for representation with the Detroit-based United Auto Workers union two years ago, but have yet to secure contracts.
"Atlantic City has been a favored destination for our members and their families. Las Vegas is another popular venue for our meetings," wrote AFT President Randi Weingarten in a letter dated Aug. 19. "However, while this stalemate continues, we will be actively seeking alternate business relationships and facilities for upcoming conventions and meetings."
The Washington, D.C.-based, AFT counts more than 1.4 million members nationwide, with a high concentration in the Northeast. The union also is a member of the AFL-CIO.
Earlier this year, the AFL-CIO, the UAW and two other unions joined forces to create a Gaming Workers Council, a national coalition formed to address the fruitless contract talks in Atlantic City.
Harrah's spokeswoman Marybel Batjer said Thursday that the company remains a "strong supporter" of teachers and education, despite the AFT's decision.
"We find this particularly egregious since we have, in so many of the states that we are privileged to operate, supported teachers, associations and unions in their effort to gain better salaries and conditions," Batjer said.
William Lipkin, president of the New Jersey State Federation of Teachers, said he was unaware of his parent union's decision to snub Harrah's, but he supports it. His union represents 13,000 members.
"If the venue is not union or not a union hotel, we will not hold anything there," Lipkin said generally about doing business.
As for the state's largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association plans to hold its annual teachers conference in Atlantic City again this November, according to its Web site. The union has more than 203,000 members statewide.
A call seeking comment about whether the NJEA would continue to support Harrah's properties was not returned Thursday. On its Web site, the union touts staying at local resort hotels, including Bally's and Caesars.
The UAW, meanwhile, is planning a major rally Saturday on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, a spokesman said Thursday. Members of other unions, including the Teamsters, the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are expected to picket alongside dealers.
The UAW has been calling for better wages, job security and medical and pension benefits for its members, which include dealers at Tropicana Casino and Resort and Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Contracts have not been signed with those casinos either.
Casino management at Bally's has declined to negotiate with the UAW and is challenging a federal labor board ruling saying that it must. Caesars officials have continued to meet with a bargaining committee and says it will agree to a contract that it considers "economically feasible."
For several months, the UAW and Harrah's also have engaged in a major advertising campaign, putting a public spotlight on its conflict.
In its ads, the UAW is asking gamblers to stay away from Bally's and Caesars, while Harrah's is telling the UAW not to turn Atlantic City "into the next Detroit."
It is unknown how many customers are avoiding Caesars and Bally's because of the UAW ads.
But it appears a lot of people are still staying there. In the first six months of 2009, the two casinos with the highest hotel occupancy rates in Atlantic City were Caesars, at 89.9 percent, and Bally's, at 87.8 percent, according to the latest state Casino Control Commission report.
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