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Culinary contract fight with Virgin heats up, but no Memorial Day strike planned

Union leaders said the workers won’t hold another temporary walkout this weekend while both sides criticize the latest salary and benefits proposals.
Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz

A top executive for Virgin Hotels Las Vegas said Wednesday that the off-Strip resort “simply cannot afford” wage and benefit demands from Culinary Workers Union Local 226 that would cover 700 non-gaming workers employed at the property.

Meanwhile, Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge said Thursday the union is not planning another temporary walkout by Virgin’s workforce, who set up picket lines in front of the resort two weeks ago, but is asking the company for another contract negotiation session. 

He said Virgin embarked on a “publicity stunt” when the company said in a Wednesday statement that its recent contract offer was its final and best offer.

“Companies that bargain in the press really aren't that serious about getting to a resolution,” Pappageorge said. 

It’s the latest spat between Culinary, its affiliated Bartenders Union Local 165 and Virgin — the only Las Vegas property that has not agreed to a new five-year contract with the unions, which reached agreements over the last year with companies representing nearly 40 Strip, downtown and off-Strip resorts covering nearly 50,000 non-gaming workers.

The lone holdout is Virgin Las Vegas, which is considered a Strip property by the unions. The privately held resort changed senior management last summer and it was announced on May 7 that Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment would be replaced as the casino operator. The union’s contract expired last June. 

The Culinary and Bartenders unions upped the pressure on the property by holding a 48-hour strike starting on May 10 — the first strike by the union against a resort in 22 years. Pappageroge said there were no plans by workers to strike this weekend when tourism officials expect Las Vegas to see more than 343,000 visitors for the Memorial Day holiday.

Virgin released a three-page letter Thursday from Kate Hay, chief human resources officer for Virgin Las Vegas owner JC Hospitality, sent to the leadership of the Culinary and its affiliated Bartenders Union Local, spelling out management's modified “last, best and final offer.” Hay wrote that the unions have not changed their offer since Feb. 1.

In its most recent proposal, Virgin is not offering salary increases in the first three years of the five-year package, but added small increases to the workers’ benefits programs.

“We have modified our wage and benefit proposal for a fourth time. It continues to guarantee benefit contributions for the first three years,” Hay wrote. “We have asked that those years be treated as a ‘runway,’ giving Virgin Hotels Las Vegas time to stabilize its business.”

Hay wrote that wages at the resort for the Culinary and Bartenders members have increased more than 30 percent since 2021. Virgin officials offered a June 7 negotiating session, but Pappageorge said during the press conference he rejected that date.

Culinary Workers Union Local 226 Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge joins Virgin Hotels Las Vegas employees on the picket line on May 10, 2024. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Lee McNamara, a lead cook at one of Virgin’s restaurants and a negotiating committee member, said during a Thursday press briefing set up by the union that zero salary increases were unacceptable to the property’s workforce.

“We told them as a committee we would not sign [for] zero,” he said. “This situation is unfortunate. I hope that the workers and the union and the company can come to a resolution.”

Pappageorge discounted any claims of financial trouble by the resort, which reopened in March 2021 after a one-year, $200 million renovation that converted the property from Hard Rock Las Vegas. JC Hospitality is the managing partner of Virgin Las Vegas’ ownership consortium, which includes Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

Pappageorge said Culinary achieved the largest contracts in the union’s 89-year history, which included a 32 percent salary increase over five years and 10 percent in the first year. The increase amounted to a raise of $3.11 per hour in the first year and $9.21 per hour over the five years.

The average worker earned roughly $28 an hour under the previous contract — including health and pension benefits. By the end of the new five-year deal, the average worker will earn $37 an hour, including benefits — roughly $77,000 a year based on a 40-hour workweek.

He said the financial benefits package offered by Virgin amounted to just $1 for wages and benefits.

“It’s just substandard,” Pappageorge said. “Unfortunately, these workers are going to have to analyze and take a look at the proposal.”  

Earlier this month, Virgin Hotels filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the Culinary has been negotiating in bad faith.

In the letter to the unions, Hay wrote, “We understand that you wish we could agree to your opening economic demand. We simply cannot afford it, and thus far you have refused to make any alternative proposal.”


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