Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024 | 2 a.m.
Fair wages, benefits and a safe working environment are a few of the issues on the negotiating table for Alicia Watson, a food server at the Golden Nugget and one of several Culinary Union members in contract talks with more than a dozen independent Las Vegas resorts with strike deadlines approaching as early as Friday.
Watson emphasized that the relationship between union members and their employers is mutual — the company needs her just as much as she needs it, and both parties have to sit down, hear each other out and work toward an agreement.
“The companies are making profits — business is booming,” said Watson, who has been a union member for 17 years. “And so we’re just saying that we want to be a part of that with them. So that’s why we’re here … We’ve got to show them that we’re here and we’re ready to fight. We’re ready to do the work.”
The Culinary and Bartenders unions in January set a strike deadline for 5 a.m. Friday, less than 10 days before Las Vegas’ first-ever Super Bowl, as they continue negotiating for a new contract with a slew of independent resorts both on the Las Vegas Strip and in downtown Las Vegas.
Late Wednesday afternoon, however, the unions announced they would extend the strike deadline to Monday for the 10 downtown properties still negotiating, although the Friday strike deadline would remain for the three Strip properties still at the table.
Additionally, union members will embark on a 36-hour run of continuous picketing at resorts where contract negotiations are ongoing, according to a news release from Culinary.
The negotiation path mirrors talks in November when the union reached agreements with MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts just before the strike deadline, which was just before another major event: Formula One’s inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix.
As of Wednesday evening, the union had announced contract deals for workers at the following independent resorts: Circus Circus, Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, Hilton Grand Vacations, Treasure Island, the Mirage; the Strat, Tropicana, Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, Westgate Las Vegas and the Plaza.
A total of 13 resorts, including three on the Strip, were still in negotiations with the Culinary Union as of Wednesday. They include: Rio, Sahara, Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, Binion’s, Circa Las Vegas, Downtown Grand, El Cortez, Four Queens, Fremont, Golden Gate, Golden Nugget, Main Street and D Las Vegas.
Ted Pappageorge, chief negotiator and secretary-treasurer for the union, said a major issue on the table for Culinary workers is that of daily room cleaning, which has been contested at the legislative level, with many people supporting the loosening of COVID-19-era restrictions that would mandate it.
Unmandated daily room cleaning harmfully reduces the workload for guest-room attendants and also leaves rooms dirtier for guests, Pappageorge said.
“Vegas is not limited service,” he said. “It’s the Entertainment Capital of the World — it’s got to be full service. And it’s also a jobs issue for us and a cleanliness issue.”
Other issues include an adequate economic package to relieve the pressure that many union members are facing because of high costs of living, Pappageorge said, as well as protections against technology and job safety.
Many of the demands Culinary is making with independent resort companies are the same that were made for the union’s historic deal for new five-year contracts with MGM Resorts, Caesars and Wynn Resorts in November, Pappageorge said.
“At the end of the day, we have been very clear that we’ve given these companies the opportunity to come to the table, do the right thing,” Pappageorge said, noting that negotiations had been taking place daily, including over the weekend. “We’ve got a group left here now that I think there’s a good possibility we may end up on strike with some or all of them.”
Even though there may be differences between the market on the Strip and downtown, Pappageorge said, the union has managed to negotiate the same health care, pension and other benefits in past contracts.
If that doesn’t happen with the resorts still at the table, he said, there will be a strike. Workers have begun signing up their strike pledges, picking up their strike ID cards and ultimately preparing for the impending deadline, he said.
“We’re all hoping to avert a strike,” Pappageorge emphasized. “No one wants to strike. At the same time, these price and cost-of-living pressures are real. And downtown is not the Strip, but it’s doing quite well — much better than downtown has done in a long, long time. And they’re going to have to pony up to get these workers in a position where they can take care of their families.”
The deadline comes within days of Super Bowl 58 — one of several massive events expected to bring in major revenue for the very companies in negotiations with Culinary, Pappageorge said. When resorts see record revenue, he said, workers deserve record wage increases.
All the union is looking for is members’ “piece of the pie,” he said.
“The problem is, these companies have forgotten that you can’t put on these big events without workers,” he said. “And so, whether it’s the Super Bowl or Formula One or New Year’s Eve or CES, or any of the other incredible events that happen week in (and) week out — companies need to pay their fair share and share the wealth.”
In an email to the Sun, El Cortez General Manager Adam Wiesberg said Tuesday that “everything is moving forward” and the resort expected an agreement soon. The remainder of resorts that are still in negotiations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“The Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino is committed to bargaining in good faith and working diligently with the Culinary Union Local 226 during these contract negotiations,” the resort said in a statement. “We take great pride in creating a quintessential Las Vegas experience for our teammates and patrons alike, and aim to have a new contract finalized as soon as possible so everyone can return to the fun.”
The union is also engaging in a campaign to represent workers at various non-union restaurants, especially in, near and around union resorts on the Strip. This includes workers like Raul Vicente Cruz, a non-union food server at Citizens Kitchen & Bar in Mandalay Bay.
Having worked in both a union and non-union job before, Cruz said, the difference between the two is obvious. He pointed specifically to health care benefits as one major pro in working a union job versus its counterpart, and how impactful those benefits were for him and his teenage daughter.
“I want some good benefits for my co-workers,” Cruz said. “I want secure jobs and all that stuff. … One job should be enough.”
The union is specifically targeting about 10,000 non-union restaurant workers on the Strip, who are working for large, corporate-owned restaurants, Pappageorge said.
“There’s no scenario where unions survive if they don’t organize and grow to keep up with these companies,” he said. “And if you don’t do that, companies will run you over. And that means opportunities for our members, but also just the ability to grow and keep the density.”
One job should be enough, Watson said, whether that’s to feed your family, buy a car or go on vacation. Many people, however, have to work two jobs right now just to be able to do any of that, she said.
“We are ready,” Watson said of a potential strike. “We’re ready to hit the streets. We are ready to fight. We’re asking the companies for something that’s very fair.”
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