Union Strike That Was Never Happening Isn’t Happening

A threatened strike by the Culinary Workers Union against the big three casino companies in Las Vegas has been averted.

This is great news for union members, as the deals with Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts will include record increases in compensation for the people who make Vegas Vegas: Housekeepers (guest room attendants), cocktail and food servers, porters, bellpersons, cooks, bartenders, laundry and kitchen workers.

The conclusion of the labor negotiations isn’t really the most interesting part of the story, though. There was never going to be a strike, despite what every other Las Vegas news outlet said. As the kids say, “LFG.”

Things A.I. is bad at: 1) The Las Vegas sign. 2) Female union members. 3) Union logos. 4) Traffic lights. 5) Hands.

Labor negotiations between the Culinary union and Las Vegas casinos happen every five years.

We’ve seen a decent number of these contract talks, so it’s not our first rodeo. We also worked at a union, the Writers Guild of America, for nearly a decade. We also have great sources.

That’s why we knew back in September how the negotiations would unfold.

Culinary didn’t so much engage in negotiations as performance art, including a perfunctory strike vote. We predicted a strike vote would pass by 96%. It passed by 95%. Nobody’s perfect.

A strike vote, however, is a far cry from a strike.

We reported early, publicly and often that the chances of a strike were zero.

As union threats of a strike heated up, Culinary planned a “civil disobedience” protest. Before it happened, we shared the script, including the fact the union was negotiating with Las Vegas Metro to determine how many protestors would be arrested.

We also shared union members would get the biggest pay increase in union history. Still, the orchestrated photo op was held, and 75 union members were “arrested.” (The union wanted 100 people arrested, Metro said they could do 50. There was a compromise.)

As we reported at the time, “The bottom line is this protest will serve zero purpose other than to convey to its members how important and necessary the union is.”

Around this time, we reported the union would set a “pretend strike date.”

Shocker, a strike date was set, Nov. 10, 2023. The actual date didn’t matter. Culinary’s strike date was like when the A’s say they’ll bring 400,000 tourists to Las Vegas each season, or All Net Resort says it has $4.9 billion in funding, or when F1 says it will generate $1.3 billion in economic impact. These numbers are what’s referred to in financial circles as whimsical hooey.

Around this time, we asked the union about their strike fund, because literally nobody else in Las Vegas media thought to ask. A union spokesperson responded, “We’re good for it.” We are not making this up.

The fact is Culinary’s strike fund is about $8 million. People on strike get $300 a week. If 35,000 people went on strike, it would cost the union $10 million in the first week of the strike.

Beyond the union’s dog and pony show, there was another reason no strike was happening. The deal was already done. The offer on the table when the strike was resolved was about the same offer prior to the protest with the fake arrests.

The union even organized an event where members assembled strike signs. Because scaring the crap out of your membership is an awesome way to run a union.

Still, the P.R. opportunity for the union of “marathon” negotiating sessions and 11th hour agreements was irresistable.

As we shared before it happened, the companies and union agreed to terms, in exactly the order we said they’d happen: Caesars Entertainment first, MGM Resorts second, Wynn Resorts third.

The suspense was unbearable, as each negotiation session went into the early morning. What nobody else reported is the union refuses to start these sessions in the morning so everyone can get home at a decent hour. They start in the afternoon so the talks continue through the night.

The real story of the 2023 union negotiations is how ill-equipped Las Vegas media outlets are to understand this important aspect of Las Vegas. Literally every paper and station reported what was spoon fed them by the union.

The companies aren’t really allowed to discuss or respond to the stories being reported, so the public only gets one side.

Visitors canceled trips and union members freaked out about a potential strike that was an idle threat without teeth.

Now, the agreements will be approved by union members and Culinary will take a victory lap. Most union members will eat it up. Hey, not everyone reads our blog. Again, nobody’s perfect.

The truth is the union faced an existential crisis. Had it called a strike, many union members would not have participated. That’s in good part because so many members are tipped. Their basic compensation is a small fraction of their actual income. That’s why Culinary is different than most other unions in America.

A mass mutiny would’ve been a huge embarrassment to the union, so they played the media like a fiddle and will take credit for advances the companies were offering pretty much from day one of the talks. (Nevada casinos have enjoyed 30 months of billion-dollar-plus gaming revenue.) Up front, the companies knew their employees deserved a raise and they were ready to give it to them.

Many casino executives are former union members, or come from union families, or have worked closely with unions for decades.

Did employees get a bigger raise than they would’ve without a union? Probably. Was all the performance art necessary?

We’ve heard during “Big Table” negotiation sessions (where rank and file union members are invited into the room with union officials and casino executives), members heard terms from the companies and started applauding, but were “shushed” by union leadership.

Who has the most to gain from negotiations being perceived as more contentious than they really are?

We’re solidly pro-union-member, but we aren’t a fan of this union’s amateur hour tactics. To put it another way, we’re pro-worker, anti-bullshit.

Reminder: Station Casinos (operators of about 20 casinos in Las Vegas) isn’t union, and few, if any, are jumping ship for the greener pastures of working in a union casino. Just a fact.

We’re all for service industry workers getting their fair share, but one can’t discuss the impact of union wages without the flip side: The avalanche of complaints by Las Vegas visitors that prices have gotten out of control to the point where they’re visiting less often or not visiting at all anymore.

It’s complicated.

Watching the contract talks play out had its moments, and everyone loves a happy ending. This contract is arguably that.

More good news for workers, their raises are retroactive to June 2023, when the union contracts expired.

It’s worth noting, beyond the big three casino companies, there are 24 others hotel-casinos in town who have yet to conclude their negotiations, but will pretty much rubber stamp the agreement. Those companies employ another 18,000 union members.

Union contract negotiations are easily one of the last interesting aspects of Las Vegas. It’s a big deal for a minute (especially visible just before an event like F1), then it’s off the the radar for another five years. It’s a shame so many people had to be caused so much needless anxiety so the union could try and stay relevant. We’re relieved it’s over, and some of our favorite people on The Strip (bartenders) can get on with their lives.

Now, we can all get back to hating on F1, the way Mother Nature intended.