- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Workers at Las Vegas Strip casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp. have approved a contract that preserves health benefits and adds new language to protect housekeepers from hazardous work conditions.

The agreement also aims to bring back workers laid off when restaurants closed during the recession. Among other things, the union agreed to let casinos pay new hires less in these venues.

Officials with the Culinary Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165 say 97 percent of voters approved the five-year agreement Tuesday.

The contract will cover more than 13,000 employees at casinos including the Flamingo, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Caesars Palace, Bally’s, Harrah’s, and the Rio. It covers all parts of the casino universe, including the food and beverage, housekeeping, cocktails, and bell departments.

Health care will remain free for unionized workers. Caesars agreed to contribute more to workers’ compensation and gave the union the ability to manage the extra money. For now, the union is funneling the money into health care costs, not raises.

“It is clear Caesars Entertainment is committed to the future of Las Vegas,” union secretary treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline said in a statement.

Caesars is the second company to settle after contracts expired citywide June 1. MGM Resorts International, which employs about half of the Culinary union’s members, settled in November. Several downtown and independent Strip casinos are still negotiating, including the Golden Nugget, the D, Tropicana and the Stratosphere.

Culinary is the state’s largest union, and has been growing at a rapid clip, defying nationwide trends for organized labor. In May, members approved a dues increase to create a cushion should they decide to strike.

Caesars applauded the new contract Wednesday.

“We are very pleased to have reached agreements with the Culinary and Bartenders Unions,” spokesman Gary Thompson said in a statement. “These agreements benefit all parties, and will enable us to work together to provide expanded job opportunities as Las Vegas continues to recover from the long recession.”

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

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