Culinary Workers Union Negotiates with Independent Casinos

Culinary Workers Union Las Vegas

The CBAs with MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment included protections for housekeepers, assurances against automation, and DACA protections.

After reaching agreements with Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts, Las Vegas casino-hotel workers union is negotiating contracts with smaller casino operators. Casino employees throughout Las Vegas have threatened the first citywide strike in over three decades.

Earlier this week, the Culinary Union said they want similar deals for workers in 15 properties on the Las Vegas Strip and in downtown Las Vegas. The Union reached a 5-year deal with Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts International on Friday and Saturday of last week.

The Culinary Workers Union includes over 50,000 employees, who on May 22 voted at a 99% rate to strike on or after June 1, if no deals were reached. After authorizing a potential strike, the workers could walk out of properties could walk out at any moment.

Casinos still in negotiations include Tropicana, Treasure Island, Golden Nugget, and Downtown Grand. Several Station Casinos properties are involved in the ongoing negotiations, too.

Details Sketchy on MGM and Caesars CBAs

Neither MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment have yet to provide details of the tentative collective bargaining agreements, because workers are still in the process of approving them. Rumors suggest that both sides agreed to wage increases, while supplying housekeepers with “panic buttons”. These wireless devices provide an inconspicuous way for workers to alert managers if they feel they are in a threatening situation or being sexually harassed.

“The agreements with MGM and Caesars have historic language regarding immigration, technology and automation, and safety, from sexual harassment language to safety buttons,” said Bethany Khan, a spokeswoman for the Culinary Workers Union Local 226.

Bethany Khan added, “We always have one standard for our contracts, and we are going to negotiate that one standard with other properties.”

Culinary Workers Union Demands

Several Employees spoke out about the working conditions within the large casinos and why their need for a new contract was so important.

Osmary, a Caesars Palace food service worker said, “They take advantage of us. Sometimes I feel like they don’t see you as a human being, they just see you as another number. Like okay you mess up, but it’s okay, because we have someone to replace you. They don’t care here.”

“People don’t realize we have the power. There’s more of us than them. You can’t beat 50,000 workers against a hundred or so managers of all these properties. They would lose a lot of money, people wouldn’t want to stay here, [guests] would have to go to the off-station casinos off the strip. My mom, she works at the Venetian — they’re not union. And Trump [Hotel] — a couple others aren’t union. They would get all the business [if we went on strike].”

“What We Have Here Is an Oligarchy”

The rhetoric leading up to the deal between the Culinary Workers Union and MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment was stark at times. A dealer at the MGM Grand (who chose to remain anonymous) said, “What we have here is an oligarchy. A small number of companies are buying up all of downtown, which means they can set prices and wages at whatever they want. They used to treat us well, but now they’re taking away more and more.”

“I am about to go to Target to pick up a prescription that my insurance stopped covering, and it’s really expensive now, but I need it. I believe in socialized medicine and I agree with fighting for it. My partner makes more than I do, so we’re not too bad-off together. But if I was alone, it would be much harder.”

Dean at Mandalay Bay Hotel

Not all working within the casino walls are under the unions protection. Dean, who works at the Starbucks in the Mandalay Bay Hotel, is a non-union worker. He discussed the workloads of the large casino, saying, “We get these conferences with twenty thousand people, and they all come to get coffee at once during their breaks.”

“There’s only two or three of us in the back so it gets really busy‚ĶI don’t really know what it’s like for the union workers, but we all do a lot of talking bad or complaining about our jobs and the companies.”

At midnight last Thursday, the contracts of 50,000 employees of the 34 casino-hotels under Caesars and MGM Resorts expired — including the bartenders, housekeepers, bellmen and kitchen workers. After months of discussions with casino executives, the union reached deals with the two casino giants. The next CBA included assurances about jobs (versus job-killing automation), along with pay raises and other benefits.

DACA Workers Receive Protections

Because Las Vegas casinos rely on an influx of immigrant and first generation US citizens, big casino companies like Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts are receptive to deals which include protections for such workers. The new contract includes language addressing the beneficiaries of the DACA program. Immigration is a the most division issue in the United States right now, as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was terminated by the current administration.

The program was implemented by executive order during the Obama administration, which allowed immigrants who were brought to the United States as children (in 2007 or before) to live and work in the U.S. under temporary protective status. Court orders have kept the program open, but until a DACA deal is signed or the Supreme Court rules on the deal, the protected status for hundreds of thousands of immigrants could be ended at some unknown time in the near-future.

Under the contracts’ tentative agreements, Bethany Khan announced that immigrant workers who lose their work permit and are able to later readjust their immigration status will have the opportunity to get their casino jobs back. Those same workers will also get their seniority back, if they can return to the country.

Caesars Negotiator on the Las Vegas Dream

Tom Jenkin, global president and lead negotiator for Caesars, said, “We are pleased that all economic and personal security issues have been resolved with this new contract and that employees will continue to provide guests superior service and experiences. This historic agreement ensures that our union team members will continue to be a crucial part of the Las Vegas dream.”

Nearly one-fifth of the total population in Las Vegas is immigrant, the majority being from Mexico and the Philippines. Immigrant workers face higher rates of wage theft, as well as the constant threat of ICE raids.

Vegas Strip Casinos First

Though no date has been set for a possible strike, workers have been preparing for a possible strike by signing up for strike pay, financial assistance, and picketing shifts. If no deal comes, guests of those casinos still in negotiations might soon see workers picketing outside their resort. While casinos have said they are preparing to have replacement workers fill key roles, a strike could cost casino-hotels involved millions in revenue.

The last citywide strike took place in 1984 and cost the city and its workers millions of dollars. The union said negotiators’ priority is to focus on those casinos located on the Vegas Strip first, then those that are located in downtown Las Vegas. The average worker on the Las Vegas Strip makes about $23 an hour and receives benefits such as premium-free health care, a pension, and a 401(k)-retirement savings plan. The bottom quarter of the Las Vegas population earns an average of $10.86 per hour and the rate of homelessness in the city is higher than in most major US cities. In 2016, more than 30,000 renters, an average of 82 per day, were evicted from their homes.