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Inflation weighs heavy on contract talks, Culinary workers say

Updated October 12, 2023 - 11:23 pm

Hundreds of hospitality workers picketed on the Strip this week, calling for Las Vegas’ hotel-casino companies to reach a contract that tries to address the rising cost of living and their feelings of job insecurity.

Outside of Paris Las Vegas on Thursday morning, Culinary Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 chanted “No contract no peace” in front of tourists pausing to navigate the heavy pedestrian traffic and Formula One-related construction in front of the Bellagio or to take selfies in front of the Eiffel Tower. The two picketing sessions on Thursday were not a work stoppage and a strike deadline has not been set, though union leaders can call for a strike at any time following a majority vote in September.

Workers say there’s a lot at stake. They’re negotiating for better pay and benefits, workplace safety measures, extended recall rights and adjustments to the “no-strike” clause. It comes at a time when members say they have to stretch their dollar or get another job to keep up with the cost of living.

Giovanny Garcia, a waiter at Paris’ Cafe Americano, said he makes $15 per hour plus tips. He’s hoping for wage increases that can keep him from seeking a second job.

“Everything goes up but our pay. It has always been like that,” Garcia said. “Before, it wasn’t that much of a bill because things weren’t as expensive. Now, it’s impossible to live on minimum wage in the city.”

Negotiations continue between the union and three major employers: MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts. Bargaining occurred last week, but the proposals were “dollars apart,” Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer of the union, said earlier this week. Another round of negotiations has not been confirmed as of Thursday morning.

Pappageorge said the pandemic and inflation have been a big influence on the union’s demands. As publicly traded companies report record operating profits coming out of the pandemic, workers deserve a slice, he said.

“These companies are doing great, and workers aren’t going to settle just to keep up,” Pappageorge said. “If the company is doing great, the workers should do great.”

Cherie Jackson, a guest room attendant at The Linq Hotel, said she took the job for pension benefits nearly a year and a half ago. She makes $21.14 hourly and estimated her take-home pay monthly is around $2,700, but hopes to make several dollars more hourly.

“Before COVID, that would’ve been an OK amount,” Jackson, who cares for her disabled father in their Henderson home, said. “But it seems like in the last year and a half the economy has just gone through the roof. I have to drive DoorDash after work to make up the extra money and pay my bills.”

Operators have remained tight-lipped about the negotiations. But during a keynote at the Global Gaming Expo this week, MGM CEO Bill Hornbuckle acknowledged the shifting forces behind pay, particularly for non-tipped workers.

“If you’re a tipped employee in today’s environment in Las Vegas, particularly with the rise in pricing, you’re doing better than you’ve ever done,” Hornbuckle said to an audience of gaming professionals on Tuesday. “If you’re a non-tipped employee and you think about COVID and you think about some of the work rules that have been put in play and what the consumer now wants, 40 percent of the consumers don’t want their room cleaned, which means if you’re a guest-room attendant, you’re getting nothing but checkouts to do. So there’s added pressure on that. And so we understand that. We need to adapt to that.”

Some workers disagree with his comments. James Franklin, a Bellagio banquet server of 25 years, said his tipped position is not bringing in more cash flow.

“I disagree with him,” Franklin said. “In fact, we were disappointed when he said that because it means he’s out of touch with what goes on.”

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on X.

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