Culinary Union warns of possible citywide strike

Resort companies say talk of strikes are premature, they expect resolution

Members of the Culinary Union and California School Employees Association protest outside the Cosmopolitan, Wednesday, July 31, 2013.

Culinary Rally at Palace Station

Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor leads a chant during a  rally and picket line organized by the Culinary Union Local 226 to condemn Station Casinos' anti-union campaigns in front of Palace Station in Las Vegas Thursday, March 11, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Culinary Union Rally

Hundreds of Las Vegas culinary workers gathered Thursday evening in front of Red Rock Resort & Casino to protest Station Casino's anti-unioness, Thursday March 22, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Culinary Union 226 Photo Past

Culinary Union 226 members participate in a 1984 strike march on the Las Vegas Strip. Launch slideshow »

The Culinary Union is preparing for a potential citywide strike — its first in Las Vegas since 1984.

In a written warning addressed to Wall Street investors, Unite Here, the parent company of the Culinary, says a strike will be imminent if solid contracts are not soon inked with MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corp.

“Union workers are preparing for a major labor dispute,” wrote Ken Liu, a Unite Here spokesman, suggesting the strike could happen this year. “As the companies have shown no urgency toward working out a settlement, union members have started to sign up for ID cards in preparation for a strike.”

The Culinary — which represents about 60,000 bartenders, maids and food servers — has been in negotiations with the gaming giants since contracts expired in June. Though MGM and Caesars have signed contract extensions, officials from both companies contend talks of a strike are premature, even uncalled for.

“MGM Resorts’ discussions with the Unions remain substantive, and we are confident we will arrive at a contract agreement shortly,” MGM Spokesman Gordon Absher said. “We feel this new leaflet does not accurately reflect our situation. However, the Unions are negotiating with a number of companies simultaneously. Not all talks may be progressing as well as ours.”

Caesars Spokesman Gary Thompson said he believes his company will be able to reach an agreement with the union before things escalate to a strike.

“Threats of a strike aren’t particularly prudent at a time when visitation to Las Vegas is slowly recovering from the effects of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” Thompson said.

Boyd Gaming, which owns several downtown properties, have not started negotiations with the Culinary yet but plan to soon.

“We expect to begin talks soon and are optimistic we will once again reach an amicable resolution, as we have in the past,” said David Strow, Boyd’s spokesman.

The Culinary has kept a steady pressure on the gaming companies throughout negotiations. Earlier this year, the union launched, a site used to warn visitors of potential labor disputes in Las Vegas. The site lists MGM and Caesars properties as "at-risk" for a strike. The site allows Las Vegas visitors to sign up for email alerts about potential strikes.

The union has a storied reputation of using guerrilla tactics to pressure resorts into inking contracts that increase worker wages, subsidize health care benefits and guarantee full-time workweeks.

But union bosses claim negotiations regarding those major points have all but stalled.

“The companies have not yet made any concrete proposals regarding wages and benefits except for an idea (from Caesars Entertainment) to tie wage increases to net revenue growth in Las Vegas,” Liu wrote.

Lie told investors the Culinary has been preparing workers for striking duties since mid-August.

In May, an overwhelming majority of Culinary members voted to increase union dues by 60 percent — or $25 a month — to inject money into a strike fund.

The last citywide strike happened in 1984, the biggest in Las Vegas history. More than 17,000 workers protested 32 Strip resorts. Culinary leaders had carved out contracts with owners of 15 properties but couldn’t reach an agreement with the others.

The strike ended nine months later when police arrested 900 picketers and six casinos severed their union ties. Though the dissolved relationships cost union members more than $70 million in lost wages and benefits, the Culinary saw the strike as a major victory.