In Las Vegas, the service industry is king and the workers are getting ready for a royal show of force. Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165, Nevada affiliates of UNITE HERE, voted an overwhelming 99% in favor of authorizing a strike if employers do not agree to a new, five year contract with measures including protections against sexual abuse, workplace safety, a balance between tech & human labor, and pay increases.
25,000 members in the unions participated in the vote to authorize the action after the current contracts expire on June 1. Note, a strike authorization does not necessarily mean a strike is guaranteed; the action means that the unions’ Negotiating Committee is authorized to order a strike any point after the end of said contracts.
“A strike is a last resort. We want to come to an agreement, but the union and workers are preparing for a citywide strike if contracts are not settled by June 1,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer for the Culinary Union. “We support innovations that improve jobs, but we oppose automation when it only destroys jobs. Our industry must innovate without losing the human touch. That’s why employers should work with us to stay strong, fair, and competitive.”
Union members include Vegas bartenders, guest room attendants, cocktail servers, food servers, porters, bellman, cooks, and kitchen workers. The 34 targeted casino resorts feature properties owned by some big names like MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corporation, Penn National, Golden Entertainment, Boyd Gaming, as well as a host of other familiar Sin City destinations.
Ownership is offering a rosy outlook on their end. “A vote such as this is an expected part of the process,” MGM reps said in a statement. “We are confident that we can resolve the outstanding contract issues and will come to an agreement that works for all sides. In fact, MGM Resorts and the Culinary and Bartenders Unions have scheduled talks for this week and next.”
Several issues in the news are manifest in the unions’ demands. Sexual harassment is a nationwide problem, but in Nevada it is almost ingrained in the “stays in Vegas” casino culture where it is common for patrons to harass, grope, and solicit staff. Poster-boy Steve Wynn, a casino magnate (Bellagio, Mirage) and G.O.P. mega-donor, was accused of dozens of acts of sexual misconduct in January 2018. After public outcry, Wynn resigned from his roles as CEO of Wynn Resorts and as Finance Chair for the Republican National Committee.
Likewise, workplace security and safety are not abstract concepts for casino workers. On October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on the crowd at Las Vegas concert killing 58 people and injuring 851 others.
In 2002, the unions voted to authorize a strike, but a resolution was reached before the work stoppage. The last city-wide strike was in 1984 and lasted 67 days. At the time, tourism officials estimated a loss of $75 million. Vegas is currently preparing those their first NHL Stanley Cup Finals, the World Series of Poker, and an influx of sports book betting tied to the FIFA World Cup. The losses could be significantly higher this time around.