Ted Pappageorge (second from left) led a virtual press conference with union members from Las Vegas and Detroit to spell out demands, convey strength, and talk about strikes ahead of further negotiations with casino corporations and promised civil disobedience. (Image: Culinary 226 / Zoom)
The Culinary and Bartenders Unions have plans to put on a show befitting a big-stage Vegas production. The organizations trying to secure better contracts for casino workers are choreographing a shutdown of Las Vegas Boulevard on Wednesday, with some protestors prepared to get arrested.
Such disruptive activities come as labor union negotiators step into another round of contract discussions with Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International and Wynn/Encore Resorts.
According to a press release sent to media by the Culinary Union, thousands of disgruntled casino workers are being called to assemble Wednesday on both sides of a stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard south of Flamingo Road.
At 4 p.m., picketers intend to spill out into the road, blocking traffic in one lane going each direction. At 5 p.m. there will be a rally. And 6 p.m. is when the real civil disobedience is slated to begin.
“Approximately 75 hospitality workers will be arrested in a non-violent protest action,” the press release says. “Protestors will take Las Vegas Boulevard across multiple lanes between Bellagio and Paris.”
Stephen Miller, a professor of economics and director of research at UNLV’s Lee Business School, spoke to Casinos.com to explain the union’s pre-strike saber rattling.
“The unions are becoming more aggressive, and feel they're in a much better position to bargain,” Miller said. “Certainly if we have a strike in November, that's not a good thing. So that adds to the pressure on management.”
The Culinary and Bartenders Unions – representing nearly 53,000 housekeeping workers, wait staff, maintenance crew and other non-gaming casino employees in Las Vegas – have been at odds with the three biggest casino employers for nearly six months.
In September, union members voted to authorize a citywide strike. With five-year contracts having expired in early October, the unions have since organized picket lines in front of MGM and Caesars properties on the Las Vegas Strip. Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Las Vegas to let workers know they had the support of the Biden administration.
“It’s time for the companies to make significant moves if they really do want to resolve this without a strike,” Culinary Union secretary-treasurer and chief negotiator Ted Pappageorge said while wearing a T-shirt that read “Detroit Solidarity.”
The phrase acknowledged common cause with 3,700 casino workers at MGM Grand Detroit who walked off the job last week.
“Our goal on Wednesday is to send another powerful message,” Pappageorge said, “to let these companies know they have an opportunity to do the right thing … to fix this, but they’re running out of time.”
He asserted that Las Vegas unions would be joining the workers on strike in Detroit “shortly,” but declined to specify if he meant days or weeks or longer.
“Of course nobody wants a strike,” Pappageorge said. “But there has to be recognition that these companies only made it through the pandemic because of these workers. Now the idea that they will be shortchanged while these companies are setting record profits is unacceptable.”
But will the public find shutting down traffic on the Strip acceptable? Miller believes it could prove effective.
“They'll inconvenience a few people, hopefully not the whole population, and help to get press coverage so they'll build support for the union's demands,“ he said.
While unions say the pandemic changed the companies and the way they operate, Miller said it also gave workers a clearer understanding of what they’re worth.
“The bottom line is there's been a power shift,” Miller said. “Workers have gotten more power relative to employers. And from that we are seeing more labor disputes, possible strikes, threats of strikes and actual strikes.”
Casinos are saying they will stay staffed regardless of whether or not there’s a strike. But Miller questions the ability of affected properties to do so.
“The labor market is so tight. Who are they going to get?” he said. “It could be difficult to find people. The quality of service at the casinos might go down significantly.”