Debra Jefferies, a cocktail waitress at Horseshoe Las Vegas, spent much of the week wondering if she would walk a picket line, as she did in 1984 — the last time there was a major strike among the city’s hotel workers.
“There was solidarity then, just like there is today,” Ms Jefferies, 68, said. “Each generation has mobilized to demand better working conditions.”
Nearly 35,000 union members, including Ms. Jefferies, had threatened to go on strike Friday against the city’s three major casino operators after months of negotiations failed to produce a new five-year labor agreement.
But last-minute maneuvering avoided a walkout as the resort’s owners – Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts – one by one reached tentative contracts with the city’s two most powerful unions. .
The final agreement, with Wynn Resorts, came early Friday, hours before the strike deadline. The deal, once ratified, would provide “outstanding benefits and total compensation to our employees,” Wynn said in a statement. The culinary union said the contract included the largest negotiated wage increase in its 88-year history.
A strike threatens to disrupt a series of major events, starting with the Las Vegas Grand Prix, a Formula One auto race on the Strip expected to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors late next week.
It’s the latest crucible for Las Vegas and Nevada, which has the nation’s highest unemployment rate — currently 5.4 percent — and has struggled to rebound since the start of the pandemic shut down the Strip for months.
Hotel occupancy remains below pre-pandemic levels. In September, that figure was about 82 percent, up from 88 percent in 2019. And union officials say there are about 20 percent fewer hospitality workers in the city than before the pandemic . Even with lower occupancy rates, there have been some indicators of an increase: fewer people spending more money. Tax revenues are 35% higher than before the pandemic.
Besides the Formula 1 race, Las Vegas is the site of the National Finals Rodeo in December and the Super Bowl in February.
Bill Hornbuckle, MGM’s chief executive, said Wednesday during an earnings conference call that his company had sold more than 10,000 tickets to the Grand Prix and hoped to generate $60 million in additional hotel revenue within days. come.
These issues made a labor agreement all the more crucial.
The conflict pitted Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165 – affiliated with the UNITE HERE union confederation – with Caesars, MGM and Wynn, which operate 18 hotels along the Strip and are the three largest employers of State. Ted Pappageorge, the leader of Local 226, compared the negotiations to “three big planes landing at the same time.”
Unions have pushed for contracts that would raise wages and ease concerns about the introduction of new technologies that could affect employment. Many hotels, for example, have reduced front-desk staff and instead created mobile check-in counters in an effort to reduce waiting.
Another major factor the union focused on during the seven months of negotiations was daily room cleaning. Since the pandemic, many Strip hotels have eliminated daily room cleaning services for guests — a move, union leaders said, that cost them jobs. And lawmakers voted this year to end a state law, passed during the pandemic, that required hotel rooms to be disinfected daily. The strict rules that now require daily room cleaning have been significant victories in contract negotiations.
“Hospitality workers will now be able to support their families and thrive in Las Vegas,” Mr. Pappageorge said, adding that the contract with MGM Resorts would provide pay increases that are “far greater” than those of the last contract, which amounted to 4.57 dollars. one hour increase overall in terms of wages, health care and pensions.
Details of the tentative agreements have not been released, but terms are expected to be similar across all three companies. Under the contract, which expired Sept. 15, union members earn an average of $26 an hour.
Stephen M. Miller, an economics professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the dramatic shift in the balance of power between management and labor that has occurred in the post-pandemic period is clearly visible in Las Vegas.
Mr. Miller said government stimulus funds during the pandemic gave laid-off workers, including many who worked in the Las Vegas culinary union, the resources to reconsider their future employment path.
“The labor market is involved in a vast restructuring process, which has given workers greater bargaining power,” Mr. Miller said. “The resurgence of strikes and threats of strikes is the observable result of this change in power. »
If a strike had occurred, Mr. Miller said, it would have hurt the state’s economy.
“The economic recovery here in Nevada has come in fits and starts,” he said. “Neither side wanted a strike. “It would have been terrible for the state’s economy and reputation.”
Even before last year’s labor unrest in the auto industry, Hollywood and other fields, Nevada’s culinary workers were a particularly powerful force.
It is the members of culinary unions – which include housekeepers, cooks, doormen, laundresses, bartenders and restaurant servers – whose political influence has been vital in winning legislative approval of safety precautions linked to Covid-19.
And they often help influence elections as a powerful base for Democrats.
In 2020, members knocked on more than 500,000 doors and helped Joseph R. Biden Jr. win the state by about two percentage points. Last year, during the 2022 midterm elections, they doubled down on their door-to-door canvassing efforts, helping Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto secure her re-election. (Despite their efforts, incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who faced heavy criticism over pandemic-related shutdowns, narrowly lost.)
That kind of support could be crucial for Mr. Biden again next year in a swing state where a recent New York Times/Siena College poll showed him trailing his likely Republican opponent by 10 percentage points. former President Donald J. Trump.
Yusett Salomon was among the workers who knocked on Democrats’ doors during the 2022 elections. He worked as a warehouse operator transporting pallets of food and plants to the Wynn for the past two years, earning $22 from the hour.
On Thursday, Mr. Salomon sat in a cavernous hotel conference room and observed the negotiations. “There is no better time than now to fight for what we deserve,” he said.
Lynne Curtis And J. Edward Moreno reports contributed.