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As VP meets with Las Vegas hospitality workers, there's still work to do

Culinary Workers Union Local 226

Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to appear in Las Vegas Wednesday with union members who recently signed a “historic” contract with three major casinos.

A threatened strike days before the Formula 1 Grand Prix race helped their cause. And that deal reverberates into 2024 as the culinary union continues negotiating with smaller casinos.

As negotiations between workers and employers dragged on for months, Culinary Union workers rallies became increasingly boisterous and bold.

Even staging a civil disobedience action for blocking the strip with several Union members being arrested.

The week the strike deadline was scheduled, the Culinary Union and the three largest resort-casino companies came to an agreement. MGM International, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts agreed to the Union’s terms just days before Formula 1.

We reached out to all three and none would comment on the details of the new contract.

The union had five strike issues it was fighting for. Among them: job security and safety.

“One day I have this experience,” said Mariana Swanson, a guest room cleaner at Wynn. She says panic buttons are essential to her safety. “This guest had on a robe. And he opened his robe and he was nude. And I was scared.”

The union says there’s been an increase in calls to the police. Their contract now calls for companies to thoroughly investigate assaults and other criminal behavior.

Safety is what led the union to insist on daily room cleaning, which was halted during the height of the pandemic and kept in place long after businesses reopened.

It’s an issue the union took all the way to the legislature.

“When you’re not cleaning rooms daily, you have to be sent all over the hotel to get your quota and you don’t know who you’re going to be servicing. You also don’t know who you’re working with in the station next to you,” she said. “Folks look after each other when they have to deal with guests that have been out all night and been out partying. There’s been an uptick in situations, in dangerous situations. And it's something that was a big concern for our members.”

Despite their concern, and effort, the Legislature did not support the union.

This was a sticking point every employer resisted until the very end.

Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge said this is also a health safety issue for guests.

“We cannot afford to have issues, health issues in our rooms. There’s all sorts of health issues issues. We can’t have that in Las Vegas. That’s another reason we need daily room cleaning.”

Another point of contention was job security. After the pandemic, union workers insisted, should there be another pandemic-life circumstance, union workers should be offered to return to their jobs before a new hire.

“We fought for 24 months in [Senate Bill 4]. But as you know, SB4 was eliminated. Our proposal was to get to 36 months. No company agreed to that until the very last minute of the early morning negotiations, on the very last day for each company. We won 36 month recall rights. Three years. So regardless of what happens or an economic downturn, our folks have recall rights for 36 months and nobody can be hired in their place,” he said.

The union also fought for job protection against artificial intelligence. When potentially job-altering technology is introduced, the union must receive six months advance notice.

“Because AI learns and if it’s introduced now but there’s no effect and later on that introduction causes an effect that can eliminate jobs and our language kicks in,” Pappageorge said.

The language states the workers must be offered training to learn the new technology or potentially retrain for another position, or receive a severance package.

“We got an increase in money, $2,000 per year for every year you’ve worked, if your job was eliminated by technology.”

There are still two dozen smaller casinos and companies where worker contracts expired earlier this summer.

“We’ve already done round one of negotiations with those companies while we were in negotiations with the Big 3. And uh, we’ll give these companies the opportunity to do the right thing. We’ll see who wants to go first and we’ll start negotiating.”

During these negotiations, the union will likely be announcing strike deadlines against those companies over the next couple of months.

Yvette Fernandez is the regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau. She joined Nevada Public Radio in September 2021.