Las Vegas casino workers are gearing up for a fight. And after a nearly unanimous vote Tuesday, going on strike could be in the cards.
Close to 20,000 members of the Culinary and Bartenders Unions gathered at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas to cast their vote on whether or not to authorize a strike should lingering employment issues not be resolved.
It seemed like the casting of ballots was just a formality. A reported 95% said “yes” to union negotiators calling for a strike if they are unable to work out a new employment agreement with Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, and Wynn Resorts – the three largest employers on the Strip.
“This is an opportunity for these companies to do the right thing,” Culinary Union Secretary Treasurer and chief negotiator Ted Pappageorge told Fox 5 Las Vegas. “We hope to get a fair contract, but one that’s going to move people forward, not just keep up. And if not, there may be a strike.”
It was a festive atmosphere at Thomas & Mack, the arena usually reserved for UNLV basketball games.
The Culinary Union 226 and Bartenders Union 165 represent 60,000 land-based casino and non-casino laborers in Nevada. Nearly 40,000 of their members have been working without contracts since Nov. 15, when a previous five-year agreement expired.
The unions are asking for pay increases, protections against workplace violence, and job security for employees threatened by artificial intelligence and other technologies. They also are seeking a “right to return” should another pandemic or other economic calamity shut down travel and tourism again.
Contract talks between the union and big three casino operators started in April but have since stalled – a stalemate that brought about Tuesday’s vote.
Casinos are reporting record profits as the gaming industry emerges from the pandemic. At $16.07 billion, Q2 2023 was the second-highest grossing quarter in gaming industry history, topped only by Q1 2023. Union workers, however, have not seen their compensation change since 2018.
The hashtag campaign #OneJobShouldBeEnough is laying out the core of what full-time casino workers are calling for.
“Rent, food, gas, everything is going up but our salaries aren’t,” Lino Paredes, a banquet steward at the Wynn, told the Nevada Independent. “After the pandemic, there has been an overload of work that we are experiencing throughout the city. In all casinos we are being overworked.”
Many workers say they have been overworked since returning from the pandemic. Recent policies making daily room cleaning optional are a burden not a relief to housekeeping personnel who now face a more arduous task of cleaning utterly destroyed rooms.
“Daily room cleaning is a safety and workload issue. When it’s been three or four days since I’ve been assigned to clean a room, I’m never sure what I’m going to find behind that door,” said Evangelina Alaniz, a guest room attendant at Bellagio. “My job got so much harder since the pandemic … That’s why I am voting yes.”
The unions also are seeking expanded use of safety buttons, more security, and additional tracking of unruly customers who have engaged in sexual harassment, assault, and other criminal activities.
The strike vote came at a time when labor initiatives were in the spotlight. Tuesday also was the day that President Joe Biden marched with striking auto workers in Detroit, and striking writers in Hollywood announced a return to work amid an agreement with corporate film production companies.
The casino workers say they don’t want to strike, but they need the authority as they negotiate.
“When we had a strike vote five years ago, we had negotiations and we were able to get a contract,” Pappageorge said after the morning vote. “I don't know that we're going to get to a contract this time. It does not look promising. We're hoping for the best.”
Five years ago the unions faced a similar impasse in negotiations with the casino giants. And after a vote authorizing a strike passed, they quickly came to an agreement.
In 1991, workers for the since-imploded Frontier hotel and casino went on strike for more than six years, making it one of the longest work stoppages in US history. Strikers eventually returned to their jobs and received backpay with benefits.