Unionized Las Vegas hotel workers vote to strike

Members of Unite Here’s Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165 have voted to authorize a citywide strike in Las Vegas. Two voting sessions were held on May 22, and according to Unite Here, 99 percent of the two unions' 25,000 Las Vegas members voted in favor of the strike.

The reasons for the strike have their roots in union contracts, which are set to expire at 34 casino resorts in the city on June 1. These contracts affect 50,000 union workers in Las Vegas, and negotiations with casino-operating companies regarding new five-year contracts have resulted in a stalemate.

The majority of the businesses that would be affected by the strike are located on the Las Vegas Strip and downtown Las Vegas, and include properties operated by MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corporation, Penn National Gaming, Golden Entertainment, Boyd Gaming and more.

Union officials are calling for better job security as technology and automation become more prevalent, as well as higher wages and stronger action against sexual harassment in the workplace. The striking employees are comprised of bartenders, guestroom attendants, cocktail servers, food servers, porters, bellman, cooks and kitchen workers.

“A strike is a last resort. We want to come to an agreement, but the union and workers are preparing for a citywide strike if contracts are not settled by June 1,” Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union, said in a statement. “We support innovations that improve jobs, but we oppose automation when it only destroys jobs. Our industry must innovate without losing the human touch. That's why employers should work with us to stay strong, fair and competitive.”

“I don’t want to go on strike, but I will,” Adela Montes de Oca, a guestroom attendant at the Aria, an MGM Resorts International property, said in a statement. “The company is more profitable than ever because of the hard work we do, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure that we have a fair share of that success.”

Don Leadbeter, a bellman at the MGM Grand, told CNBC that the strike is being carried out in the name of job security. He pointed to technology used by bartenders and front-desk staff that put their jobs at risk, and fears for his own job opportunities in the future.

“I want the companies to open up their eyes and think what's going to happen if we go on a strike," Leadbeter told CNBC. "That's a lot of business that's going to go down."

It has been 16 years since the last time the union voted for a strike. In 2002, just days before employees prepared to vacate their positions, the unions were able secure new contracts with employers and maintain operations.

The reasoning for the armistice in 2002 is plain to see. The last official strike from the Culinary Union took place in 1984 over a period of 67 days, costing the city of Las Vegas and many of its largest businesses millions of dollars before forcing their hands. The 1984 strike cost union members alone an estimated $75 million in wages and benefits, and it is difficult to estimate what casino hotels lost in roomnight and gambling revenue.

All told, 34 properties could be effected by the strike. Photo credit: Culinary Union 226 

If workers go through with the strike, 34 properties in Las Vegas would find themselves without bartenders, housekeepers, food servers, bellmen and kitchen workers. The city’s hockey team, the Vegas Golden Knights, is preparing to play in the Stanley Cup Final starting on Monday, and a strike could create chaos for incoming hockey fans.

Two major union targets this time around are MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment. More than half of the properties that would be affected by a strike reside under these two companies’ umbrellas.

"We've been in negotiations with the companies, and they are not giving the workers what they deserve according to the economy right now," Argüello-Kline told ABC News. "They are very successful. They have a lot of money."

To its credit, MGM has said it will continue meeting with the union to try and come to a resolution.

“As we continue to bargain in good faith, we are confident that we'll resolve contract issues and negotiate a contract that works for everyone," MGM Resorts International said in a statement.