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An Enormous Strike Is Simmering in Vegas
The powerful Culinary Workers Union could strike for the first time in nearly 40 years.
By Jordan Zakarin
The packed streets of Las Vegas Boulevard may soon have an extra 40,000 people pounding the pavement on an indefinite basis.
Members of the powerful Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which also includes hotel and laundry workers, have been working without a contract since September 15th. In late September, the membership voted to authorize a strike if the union is unable to reach an equitable deal with hotel operators.
It could be the union’s first strike in 39 years; while members voted to authorize a strike in 2018, they reached a deal before hitting the streets.
In an environment of rising labor militancy, a tight labor market, and more significant grievances after Covid-19, the union has been aggressively asserting its members' demands and showing little fear of the three major conglomerates on the other side of the table.
The Culinary Union represents 53,000 workers in Vegas, with 40,000 of them working under expired contracts at 18 hotels and resorts owned by MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, and Wynn Encore Resorts. Members include guest room attendants, kitchen workers, bell men, laundry, cooks, servers, and porters.
They’re seeking large raises and reduced work hours, citing the brutal workload that has come with pandemic-era policy changes that the resort chains have used to extract record income since the city opened back up to tourists. The numbers are stark: Room rates in Vegas have risen 95 percent since 2019, according to the union, while the number of resort industry jobs in the city has dropped by 11 percent.
Helping to fuel that decrease has been the resorts’ decision to end daily room cleanings, which has upset travelers and disaster zones for guest room attendants to clean when guests check out. Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo in June signed into law a repeal of the daily room cleaning requirement enacted by the legislature during the early parts of the pandemic.
The passage of the repeal infuriated the union, which has long been one of the most powerful institutions in state politics as well as the primary get-out-the-vote operation for Nevada Democrats. Most, but not all, Democrats voted for the bill, which was backed by the state’s hotel lobby. The union cites the change as a driver of a growing injury rate.
“Right now, we have too much workload, they don't respect our stations, we go to different floors, different towers, and they don't want to shorten the number of credits,” Elida Amador, a guest room attendant at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, told More Perfect Union, referring to the number of rooms they have to clean.
“If you have an accident, you get hurt, they also want to discipline you for getting hurt,” Amador added. “But that's why: we get hurt because of the heavy workload, and we have to complete it, and if you don't, they give us discipline.”
According to a survey done by the union between April and August of this year, 88 percent of workers have reported pain while on the job, 57 percent have seen doctors for on-the-job injuries, and 15 percent required surgery.
The union has not set a date on when it would strike, but it spent the day last Thursday running practice pickets down the strip as a demonstration of its seriousness. The three conglomerates are already seeking to hire scab workers for their 18 properties, while the union is also negotiating on behalf of workers at other resorts where they are still under contract.
“The work is harder every day, everything is more expensive — rents, electricity bills, food, and gasoline,” Artemisa Orozco, a guest room attendant at the Wynn, told More Perfect Union. “Everything has gone up a lot and with the same salary as before, it is impossible to cover our expenses.”