If you want job security and stable compensation, does scaring off customers improve your prospects?
Of course not. But that fact won’t prevent the Culinary union from engaging in an increasingly suicidal negotiation strategy that could have terrible consequences for the valley’s recovering economy.
The Culinary Local 226, which represents 44,000 hospitality workers in Las Vegas, is ratcheting up its strike threats. The city hasn’t seen a large-scale hotel work stoppage since 1984, when the Strip bore no resemblance to the row of megaresorts that exists today. Three decades of largely peaceful labor relations have contributed to Las Vegas’ dominance of the tourism and convention industries, its population growth and job creation across all sectors of the economy.
The union’s contracts with local gaming companies expired June 1, but the agreements have been extended as the sides negotiate new terms. Earlier this year, the Culinary launched a website, vegastravelalert.org, which warns event planners that “a labor dispute could affect your event.” The site advises planners to add protective language to their contracts with hotels. Then, in May, Culinary members voted to increase their dues by 60 percent to boost their strike fund. Keep in mind, the union’s contracts hadn’t yet expired at this point.
Then, last week, the union’s research arm sent a letter to Wall Street investors and analysts declaring preparations are underway for strikes against MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corp. and Boyd Gaming Corp., which combined control about 20 Strip hotels and two downtown properties. As reported by the Review-Journal’s Howard Stutz, the memo from Research Director Kin Liu said, “Simmering tensions in negotiations now appear likely to boil over as the weather cools and the city enters its busy fall season,” and that “companies have shown no urgency toward working out a settlement.”
Spokesmen for gaming companies disagreed with that assessment, saying the two sides are working through differences. But the Culinary’s tactics are consistent with its other recent stunts, from harassing the customers of nonunion Station Casinos to blocking Strip traffic — limiting the tourist commerce that supports its members — in front of the Cosmopolitan, which has yet to reach an agreement with the union.
In the memo to Wall Street, the Culinary boasts that its 2004 strike against Atlantic City hotels “scored significant contract gains” for members while having “a lingering impact” on employers. In other words, the Culinary strike cost jobs. Las Vegas is just starting to regain some of the tens of thousands of jobs lost in the Great Recession. Although visitors are returning, the economy remains fragile. A strike would have wide-reaching effects.
This valley has suffered enough. If, as the union says, its proposals are aimed at the “long-term security of healthcare, pension and other benefits” of members, then it will reverse course on its strike talk and instead start assuring visitors they can come to Las Vegas anytime and have a great time — no matter how long it takes the Culinary to get a deal done.