LAS VEGAS (AP) - Tens of thousands of Las Vegas hospitality workers fighting for new union contracts voted Tuesday to authorize a strike that could impact more than three dozen casinos and hotels, the city’s economic backbone.
The Culinary Workers Union hasn’t gone on strike in more than three decades.
The union didn’t immediately set a deadline for a walkout as it continues bargaining for better pay, benefits and working conditions with the top casino employers on the Las Vegas Strip, including MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts.
A walkout by Nevada’s largest labor union would be the latest in a series of high-profile job actions around the country, including walkouts in Hollywood. The same day the Culinary Workers Union vote took place, President Joe Biden joined United Auto Workers strikers on a picket line in Michigan.
Earlier this year, UPS reached a new deal before a work stoppage that could have significantly disrupted the nation’s supply chain.
Workers calling for higher wages, better conditions and job security, especially since the end of the pandemic, have been increasingly willing to walk out on the job as employers face a greater need for workers.
The Las Vegas Strip. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
In Nevada, the Culinary Union is the largest labor union, representing about 60,000 hospitality workers statewide. Contracts for 40,000 of those members recently expired.
"We are the glue that keeps these hotels together, and we should be paid what we deserve," Deanna Virgil, a longtime employee at Wynn Las Vegas, told The Associated Press after casting her vote.
Virgil was among 53,000 housekeepers, cocktail and food servers, porters, cooks, bartenders and other hotel employees in Las Vegas eligible to participate in the vote. The union is scheduled to return to the bargaining table next week with MGM Resorts, Caesars and Wynn Resorts.
In a statement Tuesday night, MGM Resorts said it has a decades-long history of successfully bargaining with the union and believes that "both parties are committed to negotiating a contract that is good for everyone."
Caesars did not respond to emailed requests for comment, and Wynn Resorts said they had no comment.
Virgil, who has worked in the hospitality sector for 38 years, said she is able to make do with her current salary and benefits because she lives with her adult daughter.
"There’s no telling where I would be if I didn’t have the support of my daughter," Virgil said. "There are a lot of us who have two jobs, but one job should be enough."
Bethany Khan, the union’s spokesperson, said all members receive health insurance and currently earn about $26 hourly, including benefits. Khan declined to say how much the union is seeking in pay raises because "we do not negotiate in public," although the union has said it is asking for "the largest wage increases ever negotiated" in its history.
In 1991, more than 500 workers went on strike at the now-shuttered Frontier hotel and casino in downtown Las Vegas. It became one of the longest strikes in U.S. history, stretching more than six years. The union said all the strikers returned to their jobs afterward, with back pay and benefits.
The union last voted to authorize a strike in 2018. Five-year contracts were reached soon after a majority of the participating 25,000 hospitality workers cast votes to walk off the job. Rory Kuykendall, 40, said he is hopeful that Tuesday’s vote will have the same effect.
"It’s great to see all the huge numbers in turnout," said Kuykendall, a bellperson at Flamingo Las Vegas. "It’s a chance for all the members to come out and show that we’re really ready to fight."
Last summer, the casino workers’ union in Atlantic City negotiated landmark contracts that gave workers the biggest raises they’ve ever had. It also removed any chance of a strike for several years, an important consideration for Atlantic City’s casino industry as it tries to return to pre-pandemic business levels.
In past contracts, the Atlantic City union had concentrated on preserving health care and pension benefits, but this time sought "significant" pay raises for workers to help them keep pace with spiraling prices for gasoline, food, rent and other living expenses, the union said.