weather icon Partly Cloudy
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Culinary, LVCVA’s food services firm hold key talks this week

Updated November 27, 2022 - 8:00 am

Important collective bargaining sessions are on tap this week when negotiators with Sodexo Centerplate, the Las Vegas Convention Center’s exclusive provider of hospitality, food and beverage services, meet with representatives of Culinary Local 226.

The outcome of those negotiations will determine whether union members take a strike vote Dec. 8 and 9 that could put food service in jeopardy for CES, which opens Jan. 5.

The strike vote is scheduled a couple of days before the National Finals Rodeo and its Cowboy Christmas retail event at the convention center clear out.

By all accounts, the 300-plus non-tipped cooks, dishwashers, banquet servers, concessions cashiers and other Sodexo workers that are paid an average $16 to $19 an hour are expected to be ready to strike for higher wages. They say union members are no longer able to make ends meet with the cost of living rising in Southern Nevada and fewer employees available to do the work.

The union believes Sodexo hasn’t hired enough workers to properly serve a growing number of convention attendees, and it blames low pay for the company’s inability to find and hire workers. More likely, and similarly to what resorts have done, they cut expenses and laid people off during the pandemic and have found no need to staff to pre-pandemic levels. Those who haven’t returned have moved on to other jobs or other cities with some moving to more fulfilling careers.

Orlando strike vote

How willing will Las Vegas workers be to vote for a strike? If the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida — the third-largest convention center in the country behind Chicago and Las Vegas — is any indication, it could happen here. UNITE HERE union representative Jeremy Haicken of Orlando said members voted 235-0 in favor in a strike authorization vote there this month.

Representatives of Sodexo say they fully expected a union campaign to arise when the contract with workers came to an end without extension last month. They viewed the news conference that focused on Sodexo operations at convention centers in Las Vegas, Orlando, New Orleans, Sacramento and Detroit as a nationwide union campaign to drum up strike votes from workers and gain political support for them to get pay raises.

There aren’t many businesses that want to negotiate union contracts in public or in the media, but the Culinary union uses the tactic on a regular basis, calling out companies in public settings in an effort to embarrass or bully them into what they want. We’ve seen that this year in its presentations at meetings of gaming regulators, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board and the Las Vegas City Council with speakers criticizing their treatment by Red Rock Resorts Inc.’s Station Casinos.

Station representatives occasionally will share their perspectives on union tactics but keep details of contract talks to themselves.

Sodexo representatives say they plan to negotiate in good faith at the bargaining sessions, which are scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday. They say they will offer updates as appropriate.

Big shows next year

Readers have called me and asked about the ramifications of a strike vote.

Typically, there are few conventions that occur in the last weeks of the year after the National Finals Rodeo leaves town.

But January is a different story. CES kicks off a list of big trade shows, and January through March is when the Convention Center is busiest. The convention calendar for 2023 is expected to be more robust than usual because the huge once-every-three-years ConExpo-Con/Ag construction equipment trade show comes to town in March.

In 2019, when Las Vegas had a record 6.6 million convention attendees, around 30 percent of them came to Las Vegas in the first three months of the year.

One big misconception is that if the union strikes, the LVCVA could simply go out and hire new workers. But Sodexo is a contracted service provider to the LVCVA, so the fight is between the union and Sodexo and not the LVCVA.

Clearly, the LVCVA wants to see a resolution to the dispute with some big shows on the horizon, but it can’t go out and hire food service workers.

Sodexo’s statement after last week’s news conference frames the challenge of its collective bargaining sessions.

“It is an extraordinary labor climate right now,” Sodexo’s statement said. “Coming out of COVID, it is critical for our business to offer attractive wages and overall conditions to our employees who meet our service standards, while ensuring labor competitivity for our clients and consumers.”

A spokeswoman for the Culinary union said Tuesday that it was unclear when union members would take a vote on whether to ratify any contract Sodexo offers.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.