No strikes again

February 14, 2024

The strike was called off. In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, Las Vegas’s branch of the Culinary Workers Union, known as Local 226, had planned to strike over a dozen independent downtown properties—Circus Circus, The Mirage/Hard Rock, the Westgate, and the Plaza, among others—on Friday, February 2, a little over a week out from the game. The union sought to renew five-year contracts with these properties under the same terms negotiated with the Strip’s three largest companies—MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, and Wynn Resorts—late last year. Such terms include a 32 percent pay raise over the life of the contract. By the Sunday before Super Bowl weekend, Local 226 had reached a final tentative agreement with the Downtown Grand, marking deals with all but one property located on and near the Strip.

Mia Gray, professor of economic geography at Cambridge University, and James DeFilippis, professor at Rutgers’ school of planning and public policy, have argued that unionized workers provide a unique benefit to Vegas’s hotels and resorts. In their 2015 paper “Learning from Las Vegas: Unions and post-industrial urbanisation,” they write:

Hotels and resorts in the two upper market segments compete on quality, or service provided, instead of price and are likely to value the stable and well-trained workforce that a union can help provide. Low turnover in a workforce…leads to higher productivity and lower recruitment costs.
But this somewhat rosy view of unions as a cost-effective insurance policy for employers seeking a motivated and reliable workforce isn’t readily shared by those employers. Nevada is a right-to-work state, which allows workers to join union workplaces without paying union dues. It’s long been attractive to businesses precisely because companies can more easily maneuver around labor organizations.

In the past, Vegas unions have appealed to the state’s larger regulatory apparatuses to keep companies in check. In their paper, Gray and DeFilippis explain how Nevada’s gaming commission has the power to investigate property rights to applicants. One of these apparatuses is the Nevada Gaming Commission, which has been utilized “to apply pressure on individual corporations by arguing against, or in support of, the extension and/or renewal of gambling licenses.” Local 226 has relied on this strategy before, whereby “positive labor relations” ensure cooperation amidst expanded casino and hotel operations.

Roadmap Magazine, February 14, 2024

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