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No disruptions reported after 700 walk off job. What’s next?

Updated May 10, 2024 - 7:20 pm

About 700 hospitality workers at an off-Strip casino walked off the job Friday morning and will withhold work for two days while pressing their employer to reach a deal over their five-year contract.

Culinary Local 226 members at Virgin Hotels, located on Paradise Road about one mile west of Las Vegas Boulevard, plan to strike until 5 a.m. Sunday. It’s the union’s first strike in 22 years and comes after five months of negotiations with property management. The previous contract originally expired June 1.

Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer of the union chapter, said comparable properties on the Strip and in downtown Las Vegas increased wage and benefit contributions by about 32 percent over the new five-year contract — but Virgin would not commit to the same.

“This company is proposing zero wage increases for the next five years,” Pappageorge said. “Meanwhile, they’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars that they are spending, buying and renovating the property. We’re not going to let them tear down our standards here in Las Vegas.”

Virgin surprised by strike

Virgin Hotels officials said the property was able to operate like normal on Friday with the company’s support departments such as human resources, accounting and IT stepping into vacated shifts. Some service roles were also filled with temporary workers.

And business at the hotel-casino did appear normal Friday morning and into the evening besides the more than 100 hospitality workers picketing outside the property and, for part of the day, handing out flyers about the strike to guests coming in and out.

In a Friday afternoon interview, Virgin Hotels Las Vegas President Cliff Atkinson said he was surprised by the strike call and said nothing had changed their position. Virgin management is awaiting a counterproposal from Culinary and hopes to reach a deal during the next bargaining session Tuesday, he said.

But Atkinson said he felt the union needed to adjust its expectations given the property’s size and performance in the market.

“We need them to be realistic. We’re a small, independent hotel,” he said Friday. “We did not have the earnings call that Wynn (Resorts) and MGM (Resorts International) had in quarter one. It’s no secret that we’ve been repositioning and that we’ve had our challenges, and we need every partner’s help to move that forward.”

No disruption to operations

Several guests checking out of the hotel Friday morning told a Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter they hadn’t noticed a disruption by the strike. The property’s breakfast restaurant was nearly full at about 9 a.m., and some slot players were scattered across the casino floor. Hotel guests checked in and out regularly throughout the day, stopped by gifts shops and tanned by the Kassi Beach Club pool on Friday afternoon.

“I haven’t noticed a disruption,” said Marc Chaix, a guest from France checking out Friday morning after attending a conference. “I think what they’re asking for is fair.”

Atkinson said the resort was fully booked Friday night. Rock band Interpol had a performance scheduled at the property’s entertainment venue, The Theater.

Next moves by union, Virgin

Virgin’s hospitality workers are the last in the union to not have a deal with their employer. While most downtown and off-Strip properties reached agreements with the union in early February, the strike deadline was called off at Virgin Hotels and the union agreed to give management at the roughly 1,500-room property more time to reach a deal.

Union officials said the groups previously agreed to extend discussions because of the property’s finances. New management took over the property, formerly the Hard Rock Hotel, and rebranded it to Virgin Hotels in March 2021.

But the strike came just days after property management announced Mohegan Gaming, a partner and casino operator for Virgin, will pull out by the end of the year. Casino operations will transition to JCH Hospitality.

“They’re taking over gaming operations, (so) they have to have a clear financial foundation to do that,” Pappageorge said. “The idea they’re able to take over the gaming operations but they’re not able to figure out how to get workers reasonable wages is pretty suspicious.”

Ahead of strike deadlines against Strip and downtown employers, Culinary leaders said they were prepared to stop working for days on end. Asked why this strike has a specific window, Pappageorge said the property’s rank-and-file leadership committee chose a different approach.

“At this point, the decision was to send a message — a two-day strike and see if the company does the right thing,” Pappageorge said on the picket line Friday. “But the reality is there’s long-term damage when you have a long-term strike for the company, and we’d like to try to get a contract.”

Jovani Guerrero-Lopez, a kitchen steward of about six months whose father has also worked on the property for more than 10 years, said he is fighting for wage increases because of high inflation. Guerrero-Lopez said he makes about $20 per hour.

“Gas, groceries, everything skyrockets, and we need that economic package to compensate for it,” he said.

Ahead of the strike, Virgin Hotels alleged the union wasn’t bargaining in good faith and filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. It alleges the union engaged in “unlawful ‘take it or leave it’ bargaining, insisting that the Employer agree to its opening economic demands.” It also alleged that the union canceled a May 2 bargaining meeting then scheduled the strike.

Union officials dispute the allegations in the complaint. Pappageorge said Thursday they offered multiple bargaining dates and that bargaining sessions have gone on for five months.

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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