EDITORIAL: Culinary strike averted

Southern Nevada got some great economic news over the weekend, and it didn’t come from employment data, a housing report or visitation numbers. Sunday came and went without a single downtown strike by the Culinary Local 226.

The union and the affiliated Bartenders Local 165 represent about 44,000 nongaming hospitality workers across the valley, from housekeepers to food and cocktail servers. Contracts covering those workers had expired June 1, 2013, but the unions and hotel companies stretched negotiations for new deals well past that date, largely because of new health insurance costs created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Figuring out those costs and how they would be covered proved to be a sticking point in contract talks. Nonetheless, workers stayed on the job under extensions of the expired deals.

Late last year, Strip giant MGM Resorts International became the first company to reach agreement with the Culinary. Caesars Entertainment followed. After Culinary workers voted to end the contract extensions in place with other companies, independent Strip properties such as LVH, TI, the Tropicana and the Riviera struck deals. But downtown properties failed to make sufficient progress in negotiations, and the unions had set Sunday — the one-year anniversary of the expiration of their previous contract — as the day members would walk off the job absent a new deal.

To the great credit of both the unions and the hotels, negotiations picked up steam as the deadline approached. Boyd Gaming reached agreements for Main Street Station and the Fremont last week. The El Cortez, The D, the Plaza, the Las Vegas Club, Binion’s and the Four Queens reached tentative agreements, as well. That left the Golden Gate, which happened to be the last Las Vegas hotel to suffer a Culinary strike, back in 2002, as the final local property without a new contract. Negotiators agreed to continue talking past the 5 a.m. Sunday strike deadline. The all-night negotiations resulted in a deal.

Thus, downtown won’t see a single work stoppage. A strike of any size would have been terrible for downtown and the entire city in general. If any visitors were exposed to the hostility of a picket, let alone had to cross it, they’d be far less likely to return to town.

It’s clear that both the Culinary and the state’s gaming companies realized everyone would lose in the event of a strike — businesses, unions, workers, customers. If one side had believed a strike would help, it would have dug in and given nothing.

The downtown contracts are tentative; workers will hold ratification votes next week. But there’s no reason to think they’ll reject deals that met the approval of union leaders. Without disclosing specifics, the Culinary says the contracts protect workers’ health benefits and pensions.

We wish the Culinary hadn’t engaged in such destructive posturing as part of its negotiations, such as listing conventions and gatherings at risk of disruption and sending a letter to Wall Street investors and analysts warning of strike preparations. Those tactics didn’t move talks forward. Perhaps the success of last week’s negotiations will compel the union to use a more constructive approach in its dealings with nonunion properties such as the Cosmopolitan and Station Casinos.

In the meantime, the valley can look forward to more years of labor peace — and more years of dominance of the tourism and convention trades.

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