Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023 | 2 a.m.
As a cocktail server on the Las Vegas Strip, Eileen Scott has the opportunity to meet people who come to the city for a good time and be a part of ensuring that they have a fun experience.
In her words: “It’s the greatest job ever.”
But the job is no longer enough to pay the bills. Fewer hours and a lack of significant wage increases — despite increasingly high levels of visitation to Las Vegas following the COVID-19 pandemic — have forced Scott to take on a second job. She’s even eyeing a third.
“I know the company is making a record profit right now, and we’re cut out of it — even though we are the face of the hotel,” she said. “We greet the customers, we do everything to make sure they come back, and we’re just being overlooked. And I don’t think that’s fair at all. We just want our fair share.”
Scott is one of 53,000 hospitality workers in Las Vegas with contracts that expire this year — all members of the Culinary Union who will cast their vote Tuesday at the Thomas & Mack Center either for or against a strike authorization.
Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer and chief negotiator of the union, said the organization has been in contract negotiations since April with MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts, which account for a combined 22 properties on the Strip.
The contracts for 40,000 union workers at the three major hospitality companies were initially slated to expire in June, when union membership voted to extend the contracts, Pappageorge said.
After five months of negotiations and a lack of any “substantial progress,” however, he said the negotiating committee voted to end the contract extensions, which officially expired Sept. 15.
“We’re moving forward with the strike authorization vote, and hoping to show these companies that the workers are serious about demanding and needing a fair contract,” he said.
He’s confident the strike authorization will pass, but Pappageorge said that doesn’t mean a strike is imminent. Nobody wants to strike, he emphasized, and Nevada’s largest union will only take advantage of the authorization if their desired contract remains out of reach following further negotiations.
“After the vote, we’re going to go back to the bargaining table,” said Pappageorge, who noted that the union has been negotiating with MGM, Caesars and Wynn individually. “We’ve offered bargaining dates to these companies and we plan to bargain. But if we don’t get a fair contract resolved, then there will be a strike deadline.”
The tourism industry in Las Vegas is in the middle of an incredible recovery after the pandemic, Pappageorge said, and the union’s demands are aligned with the increasing profit of resort companies.
The union’s requests include some of the largest wage increases in its history, a reduced workload, job safety that includes accessibility to safety buttons and increased security, training on new forms of technology — as well as sufficient notice and health care for workers who may suffer job loss because of that same technology — and the right of workers to return to their jobs in the event of another crisis like the pandemic.
They aren’t publicly revealing their wage increase request, officials said.
“We haven’t really made any significant progress in any one of these areas,” Pappageorge said. “And it’s unfortunate.”
Representatives for MGM and Caesars did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and Wynn Resorts declined to issue a statement.
For Scott, concerns around new forms of technology and how they affect workers must be addressed.
It’s important when people are on vacation that they have someone real to talk to, she said.
“It’s everything about hospitality I’m trying to keep,” Scott said. “Because that’s why we go to places — to experience the culture, not the technology.”
The union is also demanding its right to organize and potentially strike against non-union restaurants located on the Strip, Pappageorge said.
Culinary has launched a campaign to organize 10,000 nonunion restaurant workers in and around unionized hotels and casinos on the Strip, beginning with Eataly Las Vegas at Park MGM, officials said early this month.
Only some of the workers at the restaurant — which is located at the Strip-facing entrance of the resort — are unionized, and the remainder want the same set and standard of benefits that their unionized counterparts have the ability to negotiate.
Roselia Vaquerano Rivera, a nonunion cook at Eataly and a single mother whose daughter also works at the restaurant to pay for her education, said she and her coworkers are hoping for a strong union contract, wage increases and health insurance.
Union workers at the restaurant make more than nonunion workers, she said, emphasizing her support of union workers as they seek a fair contract.
“With a union, we would see our labor rights respected,” said Vaquerano Rivera, who is primarily a Spanish speaker and spoke through a translator.
Culinary is the latest in a string of labor coalitions across the nation to threaten or enact a strike recently.
The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Writers Guild of America both began striking this year for contracts with better pay and protections, as artificial intelligence continues to grow and Hollywood becomes more reliant on digital and streaming platforms.
Tens of thousands of workers represented by the United Auto Workers began striking Sept. 15, as the union seeks better wages and benefits from three major Detroit automakers.
Closer to home, pilots at Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air picketed at Harry Reid International Airport in April for a better contract that meets industry standards, and the Clark County School District and teachers union are in the midst of negotiations.
Those became so heated that CCSD had to sue the union to stop it from engaging in a strike or strikelike actions, after so many teachers called in sick this month that several schools were forced to cancel class.
Pappageorge said massive corporations, like those with which his union is negotiating, need to shift their attention from shareholders to the workforce — especially as inflation drives up rents, mortgages, utilities, groceries and other necessary costs of living.
“We’ve got to send a message to these giant corporations that workers count,” he said. “And they’re going to have to pay attention to workers and their ability to raise their families, to own a home and really have a piece of the American dream.”
Union members have a unique say in the decisions that their employers make on their behalf, he said, and in this case they are demanding “better.”
“But it only happens if we stick together and we work together,” he said.
Several thousand union members are on the negotiating committees, and it will ultimately be their decision whether to recommend that members call a strike, if they can’t get what they consider a fair contract, Pappageorge said.
While MGM, Caesars and Wynn are the priority in contract negotiations right now, he added, the union is also opening bargaining with a “second tier” of independent and downtown Las Vegas employers.
“The issue of a strike authorization will affect MGM properties, Caesars properties and Wynn properties first,” he said. “And hopefully we can get something resolved with them first, and then move to the next group of negotiations.”
Scott said she “definitely” intends to vote for authorizing a strike, and emphasized that hospitality workers in Las Vegas are just looking for their “fair share.”
“We all gotta stand together,” she said. “We all want the best for companies and for our customers, but most of all for our family. This has been a union city, and the corporations have to know … we’re going to work for what’s right to keep it running.”
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