Las Vegas hotel workers union reaches tentative deal with Caesars, but threat of strike still looms

November 8, 2023 3:52 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Rio Yamat, Associated Press
November 8, 2023 3:52 PM

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The labor union representing tens of thousands of Las Vegas hospitality workers announced Wednesday that it has reached a tentative deal with casino giant Caesars Entertainment, a major breakthrough that could help avert an unprecedented strike at more than a dozen hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

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The announcement came after months of tense negotiations and just days before the Culinary Workers Union’s deadline for a strike. The union said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that the agreement toward a five-year contract for about 10,000 workers came after 20 straight hours of negotiations.

A sweeping walkout could still happen if deals aren’t reached by 5 a.m. Friday with MGM Resorts International, the state’s largest private employer, and Wynn Resorts. But the tentative agreement with Caesars could provide the momentum needed for the union to win new deals for its remaining 25,000 members who are still without contracts.

“As soon as one company reaches a deal, the others just fall right in line,” said Bill Werner, an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, whose research includes hospitality law and labor relations. But, he said, “I would say this is as close as we’ve come in a long time to an actual strike.”

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Negotiations with MGM Resorts were scheduled for Wednesday and Wynn Resorts on Thursday. Werner said he expects it won’t take nearly as long for deals with those companies to take shape because the union now has a blueprint with its pending Caesars contract.

Caesars said in a statement that it was excited to reach an agreement that “recognizes the integral contributions our Team Members have made to the success we have seen in Las Vegas over the last few years” with meaningful wage increases and opportunities for growth tied to plans to bring more union jobs to the Strip.

The contract, which is pending approval by the union’s rank and file, would cover properties including the company’s flagship Caesars Palace and Flamingo, Harrah’s, Horseshoe, Paris Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood, Cromwell and Linq.

“We are confident that our UniteHere Team Members will see this agreement as a demonstration of our commitment to their success and as a solid platform from which to deliver the extraordinary service and experiences our guests have come to expect,” Caesars said.

Bethany Khan, the union’s spokesperson, said terms of its deal with Caesars would be made public once approved.

A strike would cut to the heart of the city’s economic backbone and significantly disrupt operations at some of the most recognizable Las Vegas hotel-casinos as they prepare to host hundreds of thousands of people for next week’s Formula 1 debut on the Strip.

It would also be the latest in a series of high-profile actions around the country in what has been a big year for labor unions, including walkouts in Hollywood and UPS’ contentious negotiations that threatened to disrupt the nation’s supply chain. It would also follow hospitality workers walking off the job last month at Detroit’s three casinos, including MGM Grand Detroit.

“No matter if you’re auto workers, if you’re teachers, if you’re writers, if you’re screenwriters, the whole concept is we just want a fair way of making a living,” said Leslie Lilla, a cocktail server at the Bellagio. “We want to provide for our families, so that is coming across loud and clear in America.”

The race course for the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix will feature sweeping views of many of the casinos at risk of walkouts, including the Bellagio, MGM Grand and the Aria.

The Wynn and Encore resorts could also be hit by a strike, as well as MGM Resorts International’s Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, New York-New York and Park MGM.

The hospitality workers say they are willing to strike for as long as it takes to get fair contracts — from the housekeepers and utility porters who work behind the scenes to keep the Strip’s mega-resorts humming, to the bartenders and cocktail servers who provide the customer service that has helped make Las Vegas famous.

Tiffany Thomas, a guest room attendant at MGM Resorts’ Mandalay Bay and Culinary Union member for 17 years, said she is fighting for her family and for future generations of hospitality workers.

“I am willing to go on strike because I have a 10-year-old daughter who comes to negotiations with me, and she is going to inherit all of this,” Thomas said. “I refuse to sit back and watch what we’ve built crumble. I want my daughter to look at me and know I fought for a better future.”

Bargaining has been underway since April over pay, benefits, job security and working conditions, but negotiations ramped up in recent months after an overwhelming majority of union members voted in September to authorize a strike.

The vote was followed by large-scale rallies on the Strip, including one last month that ended with the arrests of 58 workers who sat in the street and halted rush-hour traffic on one of the most recognizable stretches of the Strip. The workers called it a show of force ahead of any potential strike.

As that rally began, two visitors from Missouri, Cindy Hiatt and Michelle Shirley, told The Associated Press they won’t return to Las Vegas again during a strike.

“The hotels are going to have to realize that they’re not going to have people wanting to come to Vegas without these workers,” Hiatt said.

Members currently receive health insurance and earn about $26 hourly, including benefits, Khan said. The union hasn’t revealed what it has been seeking in pay raises because, Khan said, “we do not negotiate in public,” but the union has said it is negotiating the largest wage increases in its history.

The workers have also said they want better job security amid advancements in technology, as well as stronger security protections, including more safety buttons on casino floors.