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Culinary union gathers on the Strip to get jobs back

Updated October 28, 2021 - 7:45 pm

Hundreds of Culinary union members in matching red shirts danced and cheered on the Strip on Thursday night to push for a return to work.

Union spokeswoman Bethany Khan said about 35 percent of the 60,000 union members, or about 21,000, had not returned to their previous jobs since the pandemic began.

Joined by members of the Las Vegas chapter of the Chemical Workers union and several unions across the nation who flew in for a conference, Culinary union president Ted Pappageorge riled the crowd with chants for daily room cleaning and full service restaurants.

“If companies are going to charge you the full rate you want to make sure you get full service,” he said. “That means our workers are ready to come back to work and we keep everybody working and providing the kind of services that Las Vegas is famous for.”

In a march last month, thousands of hospitality workers walked past casinos that laid them off 18 months ago. Chefs, bellhops, maids and waiters encouraged the casinos to bring back their full crew.

The gaming industry rebounded significantly this year, with casino companies in the midst of a historic stretch of gambling revenue that has eclipsed $1 billion in each of the past seven months. It’s the second-longest streak in history, and just one month shy of the state’s longest gaming win streak that was recorded from November 2006 to May 2007.

But that recovery has been slower for workers, especially those in the hospitality industry.

Las Vegas had the second highest unemployment rate in August, at 8.2 percent, with only Los Angeles’ 8.8 percent ranking higher. Part of that can be attributed to the slow rebound of hospitality and leisure jobs that employed more than a quarter of the valley’s workforce before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

More than 292,000 people worked in the hospitality and leisure sector in Las Vegas in February 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By April 2020, that number dropped by more than half to 142,000, and it bottomed out in May at 127,000.

As of August, roughly 65,000 of those jobs had not yet returned, and that is after two new casinos — Circa and Resorts World Las Vegas — opened during the pandemic and added thousands of new jobs to the sector.

Economists have said that in time most of those jobs could return, but it could be as many as 18 months from now. And those jobs may look vastly different than the ones that were lost.

Ron Hargrove, a retired employee of Ford Motor Company in Louisville, Kentucky, heard about the Culinary union’s local protest and stood among the group to show his support.

“Even though I’m on vacation, I’ll always have solidarity for the union,” he said.

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter. Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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