Hospitality workers in Las Vegas have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike against major resorts along the Strip, a critical step toward a walkout as the economically challenged city prepares for major sporting events in the months ahead.
The authorization vote on Tuesday by members of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165, which collectively represent 60,000 workers across Nevada, was approved by 95 percent of those taking part, according to union officials.
Although a vote is a forceful step, it does not guarantee that workers will strike before hashing out a new contract deal with the major resorts. Contracts for roughly 40,000 housekeepers, bartenders, cooks and food servers at MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts expired on Sept. 15, after being extended from a June deadline. Other workers remain on extended contracts that can be terminated at any time.
The locals, which are affiliated with the union UNITE HERE, have been in negotiations with the resorts since April over demands that include higher wages, more safety protections and stronger recall rights so that workers have more ability to return to their jobs during a pandemic or an economic crisis. (Union officials have said there are about 20 percent fewer hospitality workers in the city than before the Covid pandemic.)
“No one ever wants to go on strike,” said Ted Pappageorge, the head of Local 226. “But working-class folks and families have been left behind, especially since the pandemic.”
In a statement, MGM Resorts said it was optimistic the two sides could come to an agreement.
“We continue to have productive meetings with the union and believe both parties are committed to negotiating a contract that is good for everyone,” said the company.
Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment declined to comment on the vote. Negotiations continue next week between the union and the companies.
The contract battle comes as the tourism-dependent state, where the rebound from the pandemic’s economic toll has been slower than in other regions, has hedged its bets on a big sports bump.
In November, Formula 1 will arrive with the Las Vegas Grand Prix, an international event that is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of tourists. A few months later, the region will be the site of the Super Bowl.
The authorization vote also comes amid major labor battles nationwide.
Thousands of members of the United Automobile Workers union have been on strike against the three major Detroit automakers for nearly two weeks. And while the Writers Guild of America recently reached a tentative agreement with major Hollywood studios after a monthslong walkout, contract talks with tens of thousands of striking actors are at an impasse.
In Southern California, thousands of hotel workers with UNITE HERE Local 11 have staged several months of temporary strikes.
The Culinary Union, which is a major base for Democrats in Nevada, a swing state, held a similar strike authorization vote in 2018 among 25,000 workers. A contract agreement with major hotels was reached before any strike occurred.
For Chelsea MacDougall, who works as a gourmet food server at the Wynn Las Vegas, watching months of negotiations with few results has been frustrating. Inside an arena crowded with fellow union workers — some waving signs that read “One Job Should Be ENOUGH,” alluding to low pay — she voted to authorize a walkout.
“This is our next show of force to companies,” said Ms. MacDougall, 36, who makes $11.57 an hour before tips. “The workers deserve a living wage.”