700 Hotel Union Workers Launch 48-hour Strike At Virgin Hotels Casino Near Las Vegas Strip”

Roughly 700 members of the Culinary Union Local 226 walked off their jobs at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas on Friday, May 10th, morning and kicked off a 48-hour strike. The union workers wanted to pressure the casino’s management to reach a new five-year contract agreement. 

The walk-out was the first strike that Nevada’s largest worker union has initiated in more than two decades. The Culinary Local 226 planned a citywide union worker strike in late 2023, but Caesars Entertainment reached an agreement with their leaders right before the walkout.

The union had reached an agreement with major Strip properties before the end of 2023, securing contracts for around 40,000 workers employed at the hotel-casinos. They also secured contracts for another 10,000 workers working at off-Strip and downtown hotel-casinos in February.

Talks with the operator of Virgin Hotels had stalled for months before the 700-strong walkout.

48-Strike Began on Friday and Ended on Sunday

As dawn broke on Friday, guest room attendants, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks, bartenders, laundry workers, and kitchen staff formed picket lines outside Virgin Hotels, a prominent casino-resort located just blocks away from the iconic Las Vegas Strip. The walkout, which was slated to last until Sunday morning, followed months of unsuccessful negotiations between the union and Virgin Hotels’ management.

In September 2023, Bartenders Union Local 165 and the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 collectively called on its over 56,000 members to engage in a city wide walkout. The strike was, however, averted when Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts, and MGM Resorts International reached an agreement with the workers union leaders.

The current labor dispute is because of the expiration of the union’s previous five-year contract with Virgin Hotels on June 1, 2023. Since then, both parties have been engaged in oft-contentious negotiations.

The management at Virgin Hotels hasn’t budged for months, forcing the Culinary Local 226 to call for a walk-off. The union’s new agreement helps to address the workers’ demands for improved wages, enhanced job security measures, and stronger commitments to workplace safety.

Workers Union Demands

According to Ted Pappageorge, the secretary-treasurer for Culinary Union Local 226, the union’s main objectives in the ongoing negotiations include securing significant wage increases to keep pace with the region’s rising cost of living. The union also wants safeguards to protect workers from being displaced by new technologies, bolster worker safety protocols, and adjust daily room cleaning requirements for housekeepers to ensure more reasonable workloads.

Pappageorge emphasized that while the original strike deadline for Virgin Hotels and 28 other properties was set for February 5, 2024, the union had exercised patience and continued negotiations in hopes of reaching a mutually agreeable solution. However, those discussions have proven unfruitful, prompting the union to authorize the 48-hour strike action.

The same demands and priorities have been witnessed in other recent casino worker strikes. For instance, about six months ago, union workers in downtown Detroit walked out of MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino, and Hollywood Casino at Greektown. They wanted to urge casino management to renew their contracts.

Virgin Hotels’ Response

In response to the impending strike, Virgin Hotels filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). They accused the union of failing to negotiate in good faith despite the casinos sincere efforts to meet and negotiate. 

The casino’s management claimed that union officials were engaged in unlawful ‘take it or leave it’ bargaining and expressed a willingness to participate in mediation to avoid disruptions to guests and employees.

Pappageorge dismissed these allegations, characterizing the NLRB complaint as a “company stunt” and expressing disappointment that Virgin Hotels had resorted to such tactics on the eve of the strike. The strike comes just months after the Super Bowl attracted record bets.

Precedent in the Casino Industry

The last time Culinary Union Local 226 members went on strike was in 2002, when they walked off the job at the Golden Gate hotel-casino in downtown Las Vegas for ten days before securing a new contract. The current strike at Virgin Hotels comes on the heels of a successful round of negotiations earlier this year, during which union members at other Las Vegas-area properties secured deals granting them approximately a 32% salary increase over five years, including a 10% raise in the first year.

While the Virgin Hotels strike is more modest in scale compared to the looming citywide strike threatened last year, its proximity to the Las Vegas Strip and the property’s iconic status as the former Hard Rock Las Vegas ensure that the labor action will garner significant attention from visitors and industry observers alike.

Both sides have significant economic interests at stake in the ongoing dispute. Virgin Hotels, having recently undergone extensive renovations, may be reluctant to grant substantial wage increases that could impact its bottom line. Conversely, the Culinary Union’s strike fund, currently standing at $11 million, provides a financial cushion that enables its members to withstand a prolonged labor stoppage.

The strike’s impact on Virgin Hotels’ operations remains to be seen, as various departments, including housekeeping, food and beverage, and unionized restaurants such as Casa Calavera, Funny Library Coffee Shop, and the Bar at Commons Club, are expected to be affected.

Wrap-Up

With the 48-hour strike at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas already over, all eyes will be on the negotiations set to resume next week. The outcome of these talks will not only impact the livelihoods of the casino’s workers but also shape the broader narrative surrounding labor relations in one of the world’s most iconic tourist destinations.

While the road ahead may be fraught with challenges and contentious debates, both parties have a vested interest in reaching a resolution that balances the economic realities of the hospitality industry with the fundamental rights and aspirations of the hard-working individuals who contribute to its success.

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