Las Vegas Hotel Workers Are Prepared To Shut Down Much Of The Strip

Thousands of service workers in Las Vegas are preparing to go on strike Friday if they can’t settle new contracts with two of the city’s major hotel and casino operators.

The Culinary Workers Union said it reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with Caesars Entertainment early Wednesday after 20 hours of bargaining. But the union says Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts must reach similar deals by a Friday morning deadline to avoid workers walking off the job and hitting the picket lines.

The fact that the union reached an agreement with Caesars bodes well for averting strikes at the other companies. An MGM spokesperson said its negotiators were meeting with the union Wednesday, and a Wynn spokesperson said its negotiators were scheduled to meet on Thursday.

“We have had productive bargaining sessions…. We are working to reach an agreement soon,” said Michael Weaver, the Wynn spokesperson.

Ted Pappageorge, the union’s secretary-treasurer, said before the announcement of the Caesars deal that workers were preparing for what could be a “historic” work stoppage. Echoing the words of United Auto Workers members who recently went on strike, Pappageorge said the operators must deliver a “record contract” if they want to prevent huge disruptions.

“We’re not going to stand by and have workers shortchanged,” he said during a Tuesday press conference. “The companies’ proposals [so far] would be the best contracts we’ve had in history. It’s just not enough.”

If deals aren’t reached with MGM and Wynn, the strikes could impact nine properties on the Strip: eight run by MGM, including the Bellagio and MGM Grand, and the Wynn Las Vegas. Around 25,000 workers are employed under the two companies’ contracts.

The union did not immediately release details Wednesday on the tentative deal with Caesars, which would cover around 10,000 workers. The contract must still be accepted by members in a ratification vote that has not yet been scheduled, but a union spokesperson confirmed that Caesars is no longer subject to the Friday strike deadline.

“We’re not going to stand by and have workers shortchanged.”

– Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union

Pappageorge declined to share the union’s specific demands in dollar amounts when pressed by reporters. But he said the union was calling for the largest first-year wage increase of any five-year contract in its history.

The union said other priorities include securing large employer contributions to health care and pension plans, as well as strengthening protections related to technology. In recent years, the union has tried to prevent hotels and casinos from shedding service work through the likes of self-order touch screens and automated drink pourers.

Several workers have been arrested in acts of civil disobedience related to the contract fights, the union said.

Las Vegas authorities arrest members of the Culinary Workers Union along the Strip on Oct. 25. The union has been in contract fights with Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts.
Las Vegas authorities arrest members of the Culinary Workers Union along the Strip on Oct. 25. The union has been in contract fights with Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts.

Leain Vashon, a bell captain at the Caesars-owned Paris Las Vegas and a longtime union leader, said the new trio of contracts are “the most important” that the union “has ever negotiated.”

“This town is full every weekend [with tourists]. … The only thing workers are asking for is a fair share,” Vashon said. “We’re fighting for our families here. We’re prepared. Nobody wants to go on strike, but we will.”

The Culinary Union, an affiliate of the national service workers union Unite Here, is an unusually powerful local that has organized most of the hotels and casinos on the Strip. It represents housekeepers, bellhops, servers, line cooks and others, securing them the sort of health care and retirement benefits that few service workers elsewhere enjoy.

Jennifer Marshall, a food server at the Paris, said at the Tuesday press conference that the cost of living in Las Vegas had made it harder for the hotel’s workers to make ends meet on their current wages, citing higher home prices in particular. She said workers were willing to strike to make sure they could still afford to live where they work.

“We’ve always been able to purchase a home and afford our bills,” she said. “Now it’s getting out of reach for us. I think that’s a sad thing because Las Vegas has always been one place where the workers can afford things.”

This story has been updated with comment from Wynn.

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