A labor union representing thousands of culinary workers in Las Vegas has voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike next month if casinos don’t agree to a proposed five-year contract.
The vote among the 25,000-member Culinary Union was 99% in favor of allowing a strike the day after the current contract expires on May 31, officials said.
If the strike occurs, it would be the first citywide labor strike since 1984, according to union spokeswoman Bethany Khan.
She said the union is seeking more sexual harassment protections for workers in the wake of the #MeToo movement, a larger share of casino profits, more training as jobs continue to transition with technology, and worker safety protections that came to light after the mass shooting at a concert in October that killed 58 people and injured hundreds.
Sexual harassment has become a focal point of reckoning in Las Vegas.
The city that eschews prudishness in marketing and has spent decades building its reputation as Sin City suddenly saw one of its icons, Steve Wynn, fall from grace amid sexual misconduct charges by women who worked for him. Wynn is largely credited with innovating the current iteration of the Strip with glamorous resorts that began with the opening of the Mirage in 1989 and the Bellagio less than 10 years later.
Wynn’s downfall also helped convince Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Becky Harris — the first woman to head the powerful agency, a job she started days after the Wynn allegations were made public — to begin workshops with casinos, workers and the public to work toward crafting sexual harassment policies that could be recommended for adoption by the Nevada Gaming Commission.
“We have heard instances of verbal and physical abuse by guests and high rollers against cocktail servers and bartenders,” Khan said. “We want language in the new contract regarding guests and high rollers that show zero tolerance for harassment so workers can do their work in dignity.”
The union also sent a letter in support of Harris’ plan.
A new contract would cover 50,000 workers at 34 casinos, including the two largest owners of properties on the Strip — MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment. Other properties that have contracts with the union include Golden Entertainment, which owns the Stratosphere, and Boyd Gaming, which owns several properties including the Orleans.
The Culinary Union expanded its ranks this year as well, with workers at the Palms Casino voting to unionize last month. Palms is owned by Station Casinos.
“Caesars expects to reach an agreement with the Union on or about June 1 when the current contract expires,” the company said in a statement.
Ruben Garcia, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said usually when one of the major properties makes an agreement, the others tend to follow.
He said the union had several things in its favor, including low unemployment, which would make hiring replacement workers more difficult; the swelling in their ranks with new members in casinos beyond the Strip and downtown; and the timing as the Las Vegas Golden Knights begin play in the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.
“I think it would be crippling because it’s summer and there will be a lot of big events, including the NHL playoffs,” he said. “I think it would be a very difficult time for the city to weather a strike.”
Khan said the last citywide strike in 1984 lasted 67 days, and the last strike authorization vote by the union was in 2002.
MGM Resorts released a statement after the strike authorization vote that expressed optimism about a resolution.
“A vote such as this is an expected part of the process,” the statement read. “We are confident that we can resolve the outstanding contract issues and will come to an agreement that works for all sides. In fact, MGM Resorts and the Culinary and Bartenders Unions have scheduled talks for this week and next.”
Unions have shown some muscle nationally, with teachers unions walking out in demonstrations in West Virginia and Arizona — both right-to-work states like Nevada. But Garcia said Nevada was in a distinct position with the Culinary Union, which is a dominant source of employees for the state’s economic engine.
The union has sought a share of company profits and points to the rising volume of visitors to Las Vegas annually.
According to the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority, 42.2 million people traveled to the city in 2017 — the third straight year visitor volume eclipsed 42 million. And while gambling revenue has been up and down on the Strip since the Oct. 1 mass shooting, Garcia said the large casinos had diversified revenue streams at properties throughout the world.
Though a strike would “likely” be averted, he said, it might take some of the downtown properties a little longer to ratify new contracts, but most would want to avoid what happened to the Frontier Hotel and Casino, which saw Culinary Union workers picket for more than six years.
That strike was resolved after the casino’s ownership changed hands in 1998.
“That was really an example of how the union was willing to weather a long strike,” Garcia said. “It really has set the stage.”