No strike yet as Las Vegas unions, resorts negotiate
No strike yet as Las Vegas unions, resorts negotiate
01 JUNE 2018 8:54 AM

The culinary and bartenders unions hold off on their citywide strike as they continue to negotiate with some of Las Vegas’ largest resort and casino operators.

Updated 10:37 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 1 June 2018 to reflect the latest developments in the negotiations. This story will be updated as new information becomes available.

Updated 3:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 1 June 2018 with a new statement from MGM Resorts International.

Updated 1:52 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 4 June 2018 with a statement from the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 about the culinary union and the Bartenders Union Local 165 reaching tentative agreements with Caesars Entertainment. 

Updated 1:20 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 5 June 2018, to share more details of the tentative agreements between MGM Resorts International and the two unions.

LAS VEGAS—The chances of a citywide strike in Las Vegas seem to be diminishing as the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165 continue to negotiate and reach tentative agreements with some of the city’s largest resort casino operators.

The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 announced 4 June that it and the Bartenders Union Local 165 have reached tentative agreements with MGM Resorts International. If ratified, the five-year contracts would cover 24,000 employees at 10 MGM Resorts properties.

Though the union declined to share full details about the tentative agreements, it stated in the news release the agreements include “groundbreaking language on worker security regarding sexual harassment, workload, technology and immigration.”

“This contract includes the strongest and most comprehensive immigration, sexual harassment and safety language in the history of any union in the United States,” Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union, said in the release. “We are proud to protect immigrants who have Temporary Protected Status and Dreamers, require regular multilingual training to ensure workers understand how to report sexual harassment from anyone (including customers) and with the company, are committed to aggressively pursue justice, and equip thousands of workers in the city with WiFi-enabled safety buttons. The historic new agreement also has the strongest economic package ever negotiated with the highest wage increases and healthcare and pension benefits for workers.”

The Culinary Workers Local 226 and the Bartenders Union Local 165 reached tentative agreements with Caesars Entertainment, according to a news release from the Culinary Union. The five-year contracts cover 12,000 of Caesars’ employees in the Las Vegas area.

Though the union states, in the news release, that it could not provide full details into the contract as there were union members who had not read the agreements and voted, it did share the agreements include language on “worker security regarding sexual harassment, workload, technology and immigration.”

The tentative agreements cover Caesars Entertainment’s Bally’s, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Cromwell, The Linq, Caesars Palace (including Nobu) and the Rio properties, according to the release.

The Culinary Workers Union tweeted 3 June it had reached a tentative five-year agreement with MGM Resorts that would cover approximately 24,000 employees at 10 MGM Resorts properties on the Las Vegas Strip. The union did not respond to a request for more information as of press time.

Officials with MGM Resorts International, which employs approximately 24,000 members of the two unions, said in a statement 1 June it has made good progress in resolving the remaining issues and will continue to negotiate "to allow these productive talks to continue."

“We remain dedicated to negotiating a contract that demonstrates our commitment to employees and their families while our company continues creating good jobs and future opportunities in Las Vegas. We remain confident that we will reach an agreement.”

Caesars Entertainment did not respond to a request for comment.

The unions continue their negotiations with the remaining 15 casino resorts in Las Vegas. Members of the unions voted earlier this month to authorize a citywide strike if the two sides could not come to an agreement in time.

As long as everyone is working in good faith, it’s likely the unions would hold off on any strike announcement to give them more time to come to an agreement, said Mark Ricciardi, managing partner at Fisher Phillips’ Las Vegas office. The union employees would continue to operate under the terms of the now-expired contract until there is a call to strike or they have agreed on new contracts, he said.

Along with seeking a five-year contract with pay increases that average out to 4% a year for the duration of the contracts, the unions are seeking to include numerous employee safety measures and employment guarantees in the agreements.

Worker safety
The unions have requested panic buttons for housekeepers, an issue that has been raised around the country through local or state laws, Ricciardi said. The operators in Las Vegas haven’t opposed this publicly, he said, and he believes they are working through different options.

Another employee safety concern put forward by the unions is defining the rules around when a guestroom attendant is to enter a room that previously had a Do Not Disturb sign on it, he said.

“There’s still a lot of wrangling over what circumstances a housekeeper could enter a room without security with her,” he said.

The unions also are calling for more detailed sexual harassment policies, he said, but most companies have detailed and robust policies in place already.

Job guarantees
The proliferation of real estate investment trusts in the hotel and gaming industries has union members worried about job guarantees during asset transactions, Ricciardi said. The spinning off of MGM Growth Properties from MGM Resorts likely sparked this one, he said, but many regional gaming companies have made similar moves.

“I doubt they were done as a way to rid themselves of unions,” he said. “They were done for economic consideration beyond the unions, but the unions are still trying to protect themselves.”

The unions’ push for job guarantees ahead of further automation is the biggest push Ricciardi said he has seen in a long time. He expects this issue to come up more frequently during union negotiations in the U.S. hotel industry as hotels increase the amount of automation in their operations, he said.

“Realistically, the unions know they won't stop technology from happening and stop hotels from using it,” he said. “The key to what they are looking for is how can the hotels give notice of upcoming changes and have some sort of transition plan for affected employees. … They will approach it without trying to restrict technology but also not have people caught with nowhere to go.”

Effects of a strike
The last citywide strike in Las Vegas was in 1984 when approximately 15,000 culinary union members went on strike for 67 days, the Washington Post reports. The strike cost $75 million in wages and benefits, according to the story.

A news release from Unite Here states its gaming research arm predicts a month-long strike could cost MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, the two largest employers of the culinary and bartenders unions’ members, more than $300 million in operating profits. 

Adding to the pressure of coming to an agreement, Las Vegas will host at least two games of the NHL Stanley Cup series starting 2 June. The World Series of Poker started 29 May and will last until 17 July at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, a Caesars Entertainment property.

Since the citywide strike in 1984, there have only been two strikes, Ricciardi said. One was at the New Frontier, he said, and the strike lasted for more than six years. The other was a short strike against the Golden Gate. There was a vote for a citywide strike in the early 2000s, he said, but the unions didn’t actually strike then.

Voting for a strike is a way for the unions to maximize their leverage, he said, but it doesn’t always result in a strike.

No one wants a strike, he said, as no one would actually benefit from it. The last citywide strike, though harmful to the hotel casinos, didn’t shut anything down, he said. Virtually all of the casinos stayed open, he said, and they provided basic services while slowly adding back amenities as tourists continued to come to the city.

The Nevada Hotel & Lodging Association declined to comment.

When asked what the potential impact of a strike could have on the city, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority replied: “Our resort partners and their union representation have traditionally maintained a good working relationship. We continue to monitor the situation but are not directly involved in negotiations and are respectful of the collective bargaining process.”

According to the LVCVA’s fact sheets, Las Vegas welcomed more than 42.2 million people in 2017, including more than 6.6 million convention delegates. The LVCVA reported 88.7% citywide occupancy last year while the Las Vegas Strip achieved 90% and the downtown area reported 83%. The average daily rate in 2017 was $129 with visitors staying on average 3.5 nights. 

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