Following months of stagnant negotiations with the biggest Las Vegas Strip operators, members of Culinary Workers Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 voted in favor of a strike authorization September 26, meaning that the unions’ negotiating parties may now call for a walkout of approximately 53,000 non-gaming employees throughout Las Vegas.
According to the Nevada Independent, the vote was divided into two sessions at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, and about 20,000 members voted in total—Culinary officials later said on X that the vote was approved by a 95 percent majority.
The negotiations involve non-gaming employees, including cleaning services, cooks, bellmen, porters and more.
Despite the strike authorization vote, union representatives said that they are continuing to negotiate in good faith with operators, but according to Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge, the chances of coming to an agreement before a walkout takes place appear to be slim.
“These companies have the opportunity to step up to the plate and do the right thing, but we haven’t seen that yet for five months,” Pappageorge said after the vote, per the Independent. “We’d love to be able to say we have a deal. We’re not expecting it at this point.”
No strike date has yet been set, but the biggest question on everyone’s minds is how this development will impact the upcoming Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix, set for November 16-18. The race is expected to be one the biggest and most valuable events in the city’s history—economic studies have projected that it could generate an overall economic impact of $1 billion or more, dwarfing the estimates that have been given for next February’s Super Bowl.
Some have pointed out that a similar situation unfolded back in 2018, as union members also authorized a strike at that time. However, that strike was avoided when a new five-year deal was reached, but there is much less optimism that the same thing will happen this time around.
“I don’t know that we’re going to get to a contract this time,” Pappageorge said, per the Independent. “It does not look promising. We’re hoping for the best.”
Negotiations involving the three biggest Strip operators, those being MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, have been ongoing since April, and although both sides have said over that span that they expect a deal to be reached, little progress appears to have been made.
Caesars CEO Tom Reeg told investors on an earnings call at the time that he expected to see “significant” raises for frontline staff, but he and others have not given much comment since.
Overall, the three companies account for approximately 38,000 union members, more than half of the total number of affected workers.
The previous contracts with the operators expired all the way back at the end of May, but union officials announced at the time that interim extensions had been agreed to, and that any future wage bumps in new deals would be retroactive.
Earlier this month, however, the Independent reported that those extensions had also since expired. Even though most of the provisions in an expired labor contract typically remain in place, any no-strike clauses are now void, thus enabling a potential walkout, which would be the first citywide occurrence since 1984.
Although wage and benefit boosts are front and center for most workers, unions are also seeking additional protections with regard to workload management, job security, the use of technology and worker safety.
Officials have noted over recent months that inflation and rising interest rates have skyrocketed the cost of living, but wages have not increased in tandem. Additionally, operators have enjoyed two-plus years of record-setting revenues coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic, and workers are ready to share in that success.
Despite the tense situation, some analysts are confident that a deal will in fact be reached in time for the Formula One race, and that workers will get their increases after all.
Barry Jonas, a gaming analyst for Truist Securities, traveled to Las Vegas to meet with representatives from both sides in recent weeks, and said in a research note afterwards that everyone involved is “highly motivated to reach an agreement in October.”
Jonas also described the workers’ potential pay bumps as being “meaningful,” positing that a new five-year contract would likely see a large increase in the first year, with smaller bumps over the subsequent four years.