Las Vegas hospitality workers could make history this year if a citywide walkout occurs.
Tens of thousands of Culinary Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 members voted to authorize a strike if necessary in a 95 percent approval vote Tuesday. No strike deadline has been set and negotiations with the city’s major employers continue next week, according to Culinary officials.
The last time a citywide strike occurred in Las Vegas was in 1984, when 17,000 Culinary members from 32 Strip resorts struck alongside several other unions. It lasted 67 days and workers lost an estimated $75 million in wages and benefits, The Associated Press reported in 2018. The region lost a similar amount in tourism revenue.
Jeff Waddoups, a labor economist at UNLV, said it’s possible that this year’s negotiations could follow a similar pattern. But he also pointed to the current market conditions, where labor is harder to find and workers say they are struggling to keep up with inflation.
“Ever since the mid-’80s, there’ve been quite a few contracts negotiated and a lot of times, we’re wondering, ‘Is there going to be a strike this time? Will it be like what happened in the ’80s?’ And it never has gotten to that point,” Waddoups said. “But this is a strange time with the pandemic and with the shutdown and the strange situation in the labor market. It’s a risk, that’s for sure.”
Several other property-specific strikes occurred after the 1984 strike. There was a nine-month strike at the Horseshoe — now known as Binion’s — in downtown Las Vegas. And beginning in 1991, more than 500 workers at the now-shuttered Frontier led one of the longest labor strikes in U.S. history that lasted for more than six years. Workers there said the hotel cut wages and benefits; the strike ended when the property was sold to new ownership.
There has also been a handful of times when a strike appeared to be imminent, but was averted. A strike authorization vote was held most recently in 2018, but contract deals with the major employers, MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment, were reached shortly after the contracts expired, Las Vegas Review-Journal archives show.
Bill Werner, an associate professor at UNLV’s William S. Harrah College of Hospitality, said strike authorization votes are a common exercise used by unions to show solidarity.
“The threat of a strike now is more serious than it was last time,” Werner said. “How could the hotels operate without having a whole bunch of replacement workers there? You’re asking people to come into a difficult situation, cross a picket line and take a job that you know is a temporary job. There’s not many people out there in the labor market right now to do that.”