Thousands of casino and hotel workers in Las Vegas approved of strike action if their contracts are not renewed by the end of the month. In a two-session vote on Tuesday, 99 percent of the workers said they authorize the union to call a strike that may close dozens of resorts and casinos in the city, known until a few years ago as the gambling capital of the world.
The contracts of around 50,000 people working in casinos and hotels around Las Vegas expire at the end of May and the new terms are now being negotiated between employers and the Culinary Union. The local division of the organization, Culinary Workers Union Local 226, represent staff at 34 resorts and casinos on The Strip and in Downtown Las Vegas. These include bartenders, servers, cooks, kitchen workers, and room attendants. Only half of them, however, took part in Tuesday’s vote, the union announced later that day. Casting their vote in two sessions, around 99 percent of the 25,000 people approved strike action after June 1 if no agreement is negotiated between the two sides.
Thousands of workers, represented by the largest labor organization in Nevada, may walk off the job, crippling some of the largest and most visited casino resorts across the city. The properties that may be affected by a possible strike include Caesars Palace, Bellagio, MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood, The D, Stratosphere, and El Cortez. Most experts believe, or more precisely hope, that the disagreement between casinos and their employees would never go too far and that no resorts would ever be shut down. The vote, however, does give the union a huge advantage in bargaining over the new 5-year contracts.
The current contracts, set to expire at midnight May 31, should be replaced by improved agreements that include pay rise, job security over the next five years, as well as protection against sexual harassment, the union says. In addition, casino resorts need to reassure workers that they will not replace them with technological solutions such as automated systems and mobile apps.
Risks Associated with a City-Wide Strike
As mentioned above, many analysts think that the two sides would soon reach an agreement that is mutually satisfactory. On the other hand, talks over the new contracts between Las Vegas workers and casinos started back in February and so far, there has been no development. If bargaining teams do strike a deal, that would be a last-minute compromise, most probably on workers’ part. Although the contracts expire May 31, a city-wide strike may not occur for weeks after June 1. Tuesday’s vote was not about whether a strike should be announced – by casting the ballot, workers authorized the Culinary Union to call for a strike at any time.
The threat of an imminent strike that could close down dozens of resorts in the city would be a strong bargaining chip in the negotiations between casinos and the union. More than half of these properties are owned and operated by two large companies, Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts International. In a statement before the vote, MGM said that it would keep negotiating with the union in order to reach an agreement that would “work for everyone”. Caesars did not comment on the issue and it is unclear whether the talks with them still underway.
There have been multiple labor strikes in Las Vegas over the years, but the last one was financially devastating for the city and the industry. In 1984, workers walked off their jobs and did not return for 67 days, which cost them an estimated $75 million in lost wages. The city, on the other hand, lost around the same amount in tourism revenue. The amount of lost gaming income was probably even larger, although not all companies share such information with the public and it is practically impossible to estimate the exact financial impact of the strike on the industry.