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Culinary announces neutrality agreement with Sphere to organize workers

Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz
People line up on the pedestrian bridge near the Venetian to view the Sphere in Las Vegas on July 4, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Operators of the $2.2 billion Sphere in Las Vegas and Culinary Workers Local 226 have reached a deal to allow the labor organization to unionize the entertainment venue’s workforce without interference from management.

The card check neutrality agreement – a voluntary process in which a worker signs a card recognizing union support – follows Culinary’s joint announcement on June 27 with the operators of the Venetian, Palazzo and Venetian Expo to begin organizing the properties’ non-gaming workforce with a promise from management not to intervene.

The Sphere, expected to open in late September with a residency by legendary rock band U2, began displaying images earlier this month on its 580,000-square-foot exosphere, the largest fully programmable LED screen on Earth.

Under construction since 2016 on a Koval Lane site, the Sphere is connected to the Venetian through an enclosed pedestrian overpass but is operated by New York-based Sphere Entertainment Co., which split from Madison Square Garden earlier this year to become a separate publicly traded company.

The Culinary and its affiliated Bartenders Local 165 said in a statement Monday that the neutrality agreement means management at The Sphere will not oppose the union's efforts to organize workers — allowing labor representatives to be at the property and promote union representation with workers.

In a statement, Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge called card check neutrality “a standard for hospitality workers in Nevada.”

Representatives from the Sphere declined to comment.

The 17,500-seat venue, which can be expanded to 20,000 attendees with standing-room space for certain events, is expected to hire 3,000 workers. It's unclear how much of the Sphere’s workforce would fall under the Culinary-Bartenders umbrella.

A National Labor Relations Board election is not required for the property to become unionized, but a third party would oversee the card-counting process to ensure a majority vote is reached. If approved, union contract negotiations would then take place.

The effort to unionize the Venetian-Palazzo complex and Sphere comes as the Culinary has opened contract talks with Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts on new five-year agreements covering some 38,000 workers with the Strip’s three largest employers.

The collective bargaining agreements covering more than 40 gaming and non-gaming resorts in the Las Vegas area expired on June 1. But the unions did not declare that date as a “strike deadline” because of the complexity of the talks. Contract extensions were reached with most Strip properties and any wage increases agreed to in a final contract will be retroactive.


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