Why Culinary Union Members Picketed On The Las Vegas Strip

In the latest in a long series of wild events in 2023, Sin City became the playing field for justice last week when thousands of food service workers took to the streets to fight for fair working conditions and a livable wage. Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which represents roughly 60,000 Nevada cooks, servers, and bartenders (both front-of-house and back-of-house workers, tipped and non-tipped), picketed along the Las Vegas Strip on October 12. It was the largest union demonstration on Las Vegas Boulevard in 20 years.

The site of the demonstration was as much about visibility as symbolism. Protestors picketed in front of eight businesses owned by MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, and Wynn Encore Resorts, with whom the Union is actively under contract negotiations. Around 53,000 of the union's members are located in Las Vegas, and on September 15, contracts expired for about 40,000 of them.

On September 26, members of the Culinary and Bartenders Unions voted on whether to authorize a citywide strike, and 95% said yes. This means that any of the state's casino employees, including servers, cooks, housekeepers, bellmen, and porters, could strike at will. In other words, the stakes are high, and the pressure is on for Vegas' big three casino owners. Timing is another bargaining chip (pun intended) for the union as the holiday season looms and millions of tourists are expected to arrive. In 2021 alone, the 32.2 million visitors spent $60.6 billion, accounting for roughly 60% of Las Vegas' total economic output.

Workers refuse to roll the dice on their futures

The Union isn't actively on strike ... yet. For now, operations will continue as usual with workers hopping on the picket line before or after their scheduled shifts. But, a strike could potentially affect 22 prominent casinos on the Strip, and Union says it is fully prepared to do so if necessary. As Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge stated in an official media release two weeks ago, "If these gaming companies don't come to an agreement, the workers have spoken and we will be ready to do whatever it takes — up to and including a strike. Workers brought every single one of these companies through the pandemic and into a great recovery, and workers deserve a fair share."

The new five-year contracts await casino approval. Terms include increased wages, health care, expanded safety measures to protect workers from rowdy customers, reduced workload for housekeeping staff, and job security in the event of another pandemic, economic crisis, or future technological expansion. As the Union declared in a tweet, "No contract? No peace!!! #onejobshouldbeenough."

Vice President Kamala Harris swung by the Culinary Union's Vegas headquarters to voice her support, calling the organization "true champions for working people ... I applaud them," via local Vegas outlet News 3. An October 9 media release from the Union called for community support to "stand in solidarity with workers by not eating, meeting, or staying in a casino resort during an active picket line."