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‘There needs to be a deadline’: Culinary leader mulls stalled contract talks

Ted Pappageorge said he expects to see picket lines on the Strip and downtown, even as Las Vegas hosts Super Bowl LVIII.
Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz
EconomyGaming
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The head of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 said he expects to see hospitality worker picket lines in front of as many as 20 Strip and downtown casinos on the weekend before Las Vegas begins to host festivities surrounding Super Bowl LVIII.

In an interview Saturday with The Nevada Independent, Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge said the union and representatives of Bartenders Union Local 165 are scheduling negotiating sessions with management from the 20 hotel-casino operators over the next 17 days.

Any property that does not have a tentative agreement with the unions by 5 a.m. on Feb. 2 will see non-gaming employees represented by the labor organizations walk away from their jobs and set up picket lines.

Pappageorge said the strike date marks nine months since the previous five-year contracts expired. Contract extensions between the unions and the properties expired in December.

“There needs to be a deadline,” he said. “These workers need their job security and they need these wage increases. We need to deal with the technology [issues] just like [agreements with other casino companies].”

Super Bowl week in Las Vegas begins Feb. 5 with numerous events for the public. Crowds are expected for the opening night festivities at Allegiant Stadium while the Super Bowl Experience fan fest at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center runs Feb. 7-10. Super Bowl LVIII is on Feb. 11 at Allegiant Stadium. Neither venue would be targeted with picket lines since Culinary contracts covering their workers are in place.

“Clearly, the Super Bowl is going to be a massive event,” Pappageorge said. “But the week before that we have the World of Concrete convention [at Las Vegas Convention Center.] We just had [the Consumer Electronics Show]. There is no shortage of massive events and shows in Vegas every weekend.”

The strike deadline comes nearly three months after the unions and the “big three” Strip companies — MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Las Vegas — agreed to new five-year contracts in November that included 32 percent salary increases.

The Caesars, MGM and Wynn contracts covered 18 properties with more than 40,000 workers and were settled just before a Nov. 16 strike deadline ahead of the Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix. After the Thanksgiving holiday, the unions moved into negotiations with individual properties. 

Shortly before Christmas, the Culinary and Bartenders agreed on new five-year contracts with two resorts — Tropicana Las Vegas and The Mirage — covering roughly 2,000 workers. Last week, the unions reached similar agreements with Four Seasons Las Vegas, which is part of Mandalay Bay but operates separately, and Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, which is part of the CityCenter complex. 

That leaves 20 properties — nine on the Strip and 11 downtown — without contracts covering roughly 7,400 workers.

Historically, unions have wrapped up contracts with Strip properties before dealing with downtown resorts, Pappageorge said, adding that the lengthy negotiations with Caesars, MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts — which began in April but didn’t move forward in earnest until June — slowed the process.

The unions are seeking the same wage increases, benefits, job protections for the adoption of new technology and workload reductions for workers at the remaining properties.

“We wanted to get these contracts done yesterday and these companies need to know there's a deadline,” Pappageorge said. “Our goal is to avert a strike. But any responsible labor leader is going to do their best to reserve that right. At the same time, these companies need to know things have changed since the pandemic. These companies are doing well and workers want their fair share and they're prepared to strike to achieve that goal.”

Pappageorge said strike organizers at all 20 properties are working on gaining strike pledges from workers, setting up picket line schedules and establishing the process for workers to receive strike pay.

“It’s a massive set of logistics and we have to pivot this big union into that direction,” he said.

Ted Pappageorge, Secretary-Treasurer for Culinary Union, during a Culinary and Bartenders Unions strike vote while gathering at Thomas and Mack Arena on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The landscape has changed

There have been several ownership changes with many of the properties not affiliated with the three major companies since the 2018 negotiations.

Two of the unsigned Strip casinos — Circus Circus and Treasure Island — are now owned by billionaire Phil Ruffin. Pappageorge said the resorts are having separate negotiations with the unions. Two off-Strip resorts that are included in the Strip negotiating designation have also changed ownership — Rio Hotel and Casino, which is now owned by New York-based Dreamscape Cos., and Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, a partnership headed by JC Hospitality.

The STRAT Hotel, Casino & SkyPod, which is on Las Vegas Boulevard in downtown Las Vegas, is treated as a Strip property by the Culinary. Its operator, Golden Entertainment, markets the property as being part of the Strip even though its monthly gaming numbers are included within the downtown reporting sector by the Gaming Control Board.

In downtown, three of the unsigned properties — Circa Casino Resort, D Las Vegas and Golden Gate — are operated by Derek Stevens, Two resorts — Main Street Station and Fremont — are owned by Boyd Gaming.

“It’s less workers significantly, but it's far more employers and negotiations,” Pappageorge said.

Representatives of the casino operators declined or could not be reached to comment on the contract discussions.

The last major strike was 40 years ago

The last citywide strike by the Culinary took place in 1984, but there have been walkouts by individual resorts over the past few decades.

Six months of picketing took place at Fitzgerald’s — now D Las Vegas — in 1989 while a nine-month strike at Binion’s Horseshoe — now Binion’s — happened a year later. Both properties are now under different ownership.

The longest strike in U.S. history began in September 1991 at the Frontier Hotel Casino on the Strip and ended six years, four months and 10 days later when the Elardi family sold the property to Ruffin, then a Kansas businessman, for $167 million. Ruffin sold the Frontier in 2007 to an Israeli-owned real estate investment group, which demolished the casino but was unable to build a new resort due to the recession.

“It's been a long time since we've had a strike. We've been very fortunate and we've gotten great contracts,” Pappageorge said. “But we use all the pressure we have to get the best contracts and avoid strikes.”

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