LAS VEGAS >> Hundreds of unionized Las Vegas casino workers gathered at a university arena in red T-shirts and work uniforms as they voted today on whether to call for a citywide strike that could have huge financial implications for the tourist-dependent destination.
Members of the Culinary Union cast ballots in the first of two separate sessions expected to draw as many as 25,000 workers and show the collective power of the largest labor organization in Nevada.
A majority yes vote would not immediately affect the casinos but would give union negotiators a huge bargaining chip by allowing them to call on a strike at any time starting June 1.
“I’m here to show the younger generations that this is the way we fight to maintain our jobs, job security, health benefits and to gain a pay raise,” Lewis Thomas, a utility porter at the Tropicana casino-hotel, said before voting. “This will be a wake-up call to let (the companies) know we are together, we are united, we are not separated.”
The vote comes as the contracts of 50,000 unionized workers were set to expire at midnight May 31 and negotiations with individual casino-operating companies for new five-year contracts have not led to agreements.
The union last voted for a strike in 2002 but reached a deal before employees walked off the job. The last strike spanned 67 days more than three decades ago and cost the city millions of dollars.
Union members — some attending with their young children — enthusiastically gathered today at the Thomas and Mack Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. They high-fived, took selfies and video, and carried signs urging people to vote.
Outside the arena, pro-union chants in English and Spanish welcomed the workers. Some chanted “Hey, Caesars, look around, Vegas is a union town” and “No contract, no peace.”
Banners outside the Thomas and Mack Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, read, “Show up or give up, security strike vote.” Inside, workers dropped paper ballots into numbered boxes.
Some workers stopped by in their uniforms on their way to or from work, while others wore shirts emblazoned with “Vegas Strong” and the union logo.
Bartenders, housekeepers, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks and other kitchen workers employed at 34 properties were eligible to vote.
Union officials have said they want to increase wages, protect job security against the increasing use of technology at hotel-casinos, and strengthen language against sexual harassment.
“We’ve been in negotiations with the companies, and they are not giving the workers what they deserve according to the economy right now,” Geoconda Argüello-Kline, union secretary-treasurer, said after the first voting session. “They are very successful. They have a lot of money.”
MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment operate more than half of the properties that would be affected by a strike. MGM said it will keep meeting with the union.
“As we continue to bargain in good faith, we are confident that we’ll resolve contract issues and negotiate a contract that works for everyone,” the company said in a statement.
Caesars did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Don Leadbeter, a bellman at the MGM Grand, has worked at Las Vegas casino-hotels for more than four decades and participated in previous strike votes. He said workers this time want to protect their job security and ensure that employers provide training as they adopt more workplace technology.
He said bartenders are already using automated systems that could potentially eliminate their jobs, and guests are now able to check in and out of resorts without interacting with front-desk personnel, putting those jobs at risk, too.
“I want the companies to open up their eyes and think what’s going to happen if we go on a strike,” Leadbeter said. “That’s a lot of business that’s going to go down.”