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Las Vegas Culinary Union strike vote: Hospitality workers gear up to walk out

Workers across the country have taken to walkouts and strikes to demand better wages and working conditions. Las Vegas hospitality workers could be the next to join.

Members of the Culinary and Bartenders Unions Tuesday night voted in favor of authorizing a strike at nearly two dozen properties on the Las Vegas Strip. While the vote does not mean a strike is imminent, the unions now have the power to call one if it does not come to an agreement with employers. Negotiations are slated to continue next week.

The unions aim to “settle a fair contract as soon as possible” but are prepared to strike, according to a statement from Ted Pappageorge, Secretary-Treasurer for the Culinary Union, which is affiliated with the labor union Unite Here.

“Companies are doing extremely well and we are demanding that workers aren’t left behind,” he said.

The authorization comes as Las Vegas gears up for major tourism events, including a Formula 1 race across the Strip in November and Super Bowl LVIII in February

Flamingo guest room attendant Diana Thomas gets fellow Culinary Union members fired up ahead of a strike vote, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, at Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus in Las Vegas.
Flamingo guest room attendant Diana Thomas gets fellow Culinary Union members fired up ahead of a strike vote, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, at Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus in Las Vegas.

What is the Culinary Union asking for?

The union says it represents 60,000 workers in Nevada, nearly 90% of whom are in Las Vegas and in active negotiations with employers for a new five-year contract. Demands include:

  • A wage increase.

  • Reducing housekeeping room quotas.

  • Mandating daily room cleaning.

  • A number of safety provisions, including expanding the use of safety buttons to more workers, mandatory room checks, and tracking customers’ criminal behavior.

  • A number of technology protections including advanced notification when new technology is introduced that would impact jobs, health care and severance pay for workers laid off due to new technology and the right to privacy from tracking technology.

  • Extending recall rights so workers can return to their jobs in the case of another pandemic or economic crisis.

“Companies are generating record profits and we demand that workers aren’t left behind and have a fair share of that success,” Pappageorge said in a news release earlier this month. 

Nevada casinos raked in $1.4 billion from players in July. Nearly $835 million went to casinos on the Strip, a new single-month gaming revenue record for the market.

Which Las Vegas Strip casinos have expired contracts?

The union said about 40,000 guest room attendants, servers, bartenders and other hospitality workers at 22 Strip properties have been working under expired contracts since Sept. 15.

The properties are:

  • MGM Resorts International properties: Aria, Bellagio, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, New York-New York, Park MGM.

  • Caesars Entertainment Inc. properties: Caesars Forum, Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Horseshoe, Paris, Planet Hollywood, The Cromwell, and the Linq.

  • Wynn Resorts Limited properties: Wynn and Encore.

The union is also negotiating a new five-year contract at a number of other Strip and downtown resorts that are still under a contract extension, including:

  • Strip properties: Circus Circus, Treasure Island, Four Seasons, Hilton Grand Vacations, The Mirage, Rio, Sahara Las Vegas, Strat, Tropicana, Trump International Hotel, Virgin Hotels, Waldorf Astoria and Westgate.

  • Downtown properties: Binion’s, Circa, Downtown Grand, El Cortez, Four Queens, Fremont, Golden Gate, Golden Nugget, Main Street, The D Casino and Plaza Hotel & Casino.

Culinary Union members rally ahead of a strike vote Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, at Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus in Las Vegas. Tens of thousands of hospitality workers who keep the iconic casinos and hotels of Las Vegas humming were set to vote Tuesday on whether to authorize a strike amid ongoing contract negotiations. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Will the Culinary Union strike?

The union has not yet set a strike deadline.

In a statement shared with USA TODAY, MGM Resorts said it continues to have "productive meetings" with the union and believes “both parties are committed to negotiating a contract that is good for everyone.”

A statement from Wynn said that it has historically had a positive relationship with labor unions and has "always reached satisfactory agreements with each." The company plans to continue to work toward an agreement "that provides our employees with competitive wages and benefits, in a work environment that matches our high standards.”

Caesars did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

So how likely is a strike?

Las Vegas' history suggests that the resorts and union will be able to come to an agreement "without a major strike," according to James Kraft, a history professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and author of "Vegas at Odds: Labor Conflict in a Leisure Economy."

Union members authorized a strike in 2018 but reached contracts soon after the vote.

"Economic life in Nevada has long hinged on the ability of resort managers to resolve disputes with workers and their union representatives peacefully, in ways that both sides see as fair and reasonable. That’s a tall order, but one within reach," Kraft said in an emailed statement.

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What happens to Las Vegas hotels if hospitality workers strike?

If the union does strike, it may not hit all 22 casinos at once.

Instead, the Culinary Union could take a page out of the United Auto Workers' playbook by launching strikes at select properties before expanding to more locations.

"It could happen at any one of a number of properties where the contract has expired. So the possibility of a strike beginning at any one of those places, I think it's quite possible," according to Ruben Garcia, a law professor and co-director of the Workplace Law Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "The real question is if it begins, how long will it go?"

The last Culinary Union strike took place in the 1990s, when more than 500 workers at the Frontier went on strike for over six years. The standoff ended only after the property was purchased by Phil Ruffin, now the owner of Circus Circus and Treasure Island. While the former Strip property hired replacement workers to continue operations, Ruffin at the time said the strike cut the previous owners' family business in half amid a booming economy, according to a 1998 article published in the New York Times.

If the union does launch a new strike, it is asking locals and tourists to support hospitality workers by not patronizing hotels and casinos, which Kraft said could make for "an incredibly costly and disruptive work stoppage."

"Scores of tourists would likely cancel their flights and hotel reservations, and understandably so. Tourists don’t want to cross picket lines, or settle for a less-than-perfect getaway," he said. "There are plenty of other attractive tourist destinations these days."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Las Vegas Culinary Union strike: Hospitality workers ready to walk out