Here’s What The Near-Strike At A MA Casino Should Teach LV Workers

Written By Dan Holmes on September 29, 2023
LV casinos culinary union strike compared to MA

Patrons at Las Vegas casinos could have difficulty getting food and drink soon.

Members of the Culinary and Bartenders unions voted Tuesday to authorize a strike. The unions are amid a heated negotiation with their casino employers.

About 53,000 members of the union are now working under expired contracts. They are employed at MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts properties in Sin City.

This doesn’t mean there will be a strike. However, it does open up the possibility of one. It’s possible more than 50,000 workers at Las Vegas casinos could stop working over their pay and benefits.

The situation is similar to a labor dispute at a Massachusetts casino earlier this year. Las Vegas workers can look at how the dispute was resolved to help their own cause.

Encore Boston Harbor nearly dealt with labor stoppage

At the end of June, Encore Boston Harbor averted a similar problem. Instead, Wynn Resorts averted a strike and struck a deal with a service industry union in the Bay State.

That situation was resolved in the 11th hour, just before a strike could happen. The two sides agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement for service employees at the Everett casino.

The union encompassed cleaning staff, cocktail servers and customer service representatives. They were fighting for better benefits for the workers.

Like in Las Vegas, the union voted to authorize a strike. In Massachusetts, union workers began picketing at EBH. Afterward, the two sides agreed to a new deal that included better pay and improvements to attendance policies.

Massachusetts workers pointed to better pay in Las Vegas

One of the sticking points for the EBH service workers was that their average pay was lower than what ownership was giving its Las Vegas employees. EBH is owned and operated by Wynn Resorts.

The labor dispute in Las Vegas impacts a larger number of people. They are fighting with three of the largest casino companies in the country. And the Las Vegas Strip is made up nearly entirely of Caesars and MGM properties.

Unfortunately for the Las Vegas workers, that means they set the bar. They aren’t able to point to another market. They need a merit-based argument for their dispute.

The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165 represent more than 53,000 Las Vegas hospitality workers. The current five-year contract between the workers and casinos expired on June 1.

Las Vegas unions argue for higher wages after increased corporate profit

An extension is in place, but the unions are seeking pay increases and better benefits.

“Companies are generating record profits and we demand that workers aren’t left behind and have a fair share of that success,” said Ted Pappageorge, the secretary-treasurer for Culinary Workers Union Local 226.

Pappageorge also pointed to a reduced labor force through automation and artificial intelligence.

“As companies reduce labor, there are less workers who have even more responsibilities and are doing more work instead of spending quality time with their families, and that has to change,” Pappageorge says. “Workers have built this industry and made it successful and that’s why we are demanding that workers share in that prosperity.”

Workers need leverage to gain concessions from management

The Las Vegas workers would be wise to follow the strategies used by the Massachusetts union, UNITED HERE Local 26. They used similar arguments about record profits resulting in better worker pay.

Furthermore, they also voted to authorize a strike to put further pressure on Wynn Resorts. This helped get management to the bargaining table.

UNITE HERE Local 26, helped by the Teamsters, got the message out that EBH, a relatively new casino, was already stiffing employees by not sharing profits. That claim was certainly not good for the Wynn brand in the Boston community.

Though not part of the labor situation directly with Wynn last June, the Teamsters in Massachusetts displayed solidarity by promising not to make deliveries to EBH until a deal was reached.

Massachusetts union used media to help spread their message

As reported in June, individual Encore Boston Harbor employees got their story out. They shared stories of how financial pressures impacted their lives. In Massachusetts, employees explained that they could not afford to live near the casino in Everett due to the high cost of housing.

In Vegas, workers can make a similar pitch to management. Then, they can use mass media companies to help spread their message. Vegas housing costs have risen as well and they believe increased pay will lead to better quality of life and more productive employees.

In the last 18 months, inflation has spiked across the U.S., yet another talking point that will certainly be brought up in negotiations.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Vegas casinos have made a comeback since the pandemic closures. Workers are at least in part responsible for the increased profits.

A strike in Las Vegas would impact several casinos in Sin City, a major tourist destination and a mecca for gamblers. For that reason, the labor strife between the union and management will be watched closely, and it could impact the industry far beyond Nevada borders as gaming continues to expand in other jurisdictions.

Culinary Workers Union Local 226 is using the phrase “One Job Should Be Enough” in its marketing materials. It’s using the related hashtag #OneJobShouldBeEnough on social media to emphasize that many of its members cannot live solely on the wages offered by the casinos.

Even if traditional media outlets don’t publish their story, grassroots social media campaigns will help spread the message.

Photo by AP Photo / John Locher
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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is a Staff Writer for PlayMA with plenty of experience under his belt. Dan has written three books about sports and previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He also has extensive experience covering the launch of sports betting in other states, including Ohio and Maryland. Currently, Dan is residing in Michigan with his family.

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