Months of nerve-wracking negotiations brimming with the possibility of a widespread strike came to a victorious end for Las Vegas' union hotel workers as they reached their first agreements since the onset of the pandemic. The conflicts pursued in these uneasy negotiations were a reflection of the workers' distress over job safety, improved work environments, and employment security.
Front and center in these negotiations was the requirement for daily room cleanings, an issue deeply championed by Ted Pappageorge, the principal contract negotiator for the Culinary Workers Union. Simultaneously, he argued for the job safety of tens of thousands of employees whose contracts expired earlier in the year. He starkly communicated that lack of addressing the daily cleaning issue would put these jobs at risk of reduction and retrenchment.
After months of escalating negotiations with their employers — MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, and Wynn Resorts — and potential strike threats, the union managed to secure tentative labor accords with all three companies. This development narrowly missed a substantial strike action by the union at a total of 18 hotel-casinos along the Vegas Strip.
Both MGM and Caesars reached agreements during the week, and Wynn Resorts settled a few hours before the strike deadline was meant to begin. The Union's members should approve these preliminary agreements. Pappageorge anticipated that a vote should occur in the forthcoming fortnight.
There was a widely positive reaction to the news of the labor deals. President Biden heaped praise on the union, asserting the importance of jobs providing more than just a paycheck but also offering dignity and respect.
Although the terms of the agreements are not immediately available, the Union affirmed that the proposed five-year contracts would afford workers unparalleled advantages such as significant wage increases, reduced responsibilities, and the compulsory daily room cleanings.
This requirement signals a return to pre-pandemic norms, as hotels in 2020 reduced this service as part of their social distancing measures. The relaxation of this aspect was notably prevalent, with some companies arguing for its environmental benefits. These controversial adjustments became the centerpiece of recent negotiations, leading Pappageorge to contend that this change threatened union jobs.
The fear over job stability was echoed by employees across the Vegas hotel industry, from the cornerstone workers such as cleaners and kitchen staff to front-facing employees like promoters and bellboys. The hospitality sector's adaptation to the lean pandemic times could potentially create a disastrous scenario for the labor force, said David Edelblute, a legal and lobbyist professional based in Vegas.
Workers like Rory Kuykendall, a bellman at Flamingo Las Vegas, stressed the importance of having job protection against the incoming wave of technological advancements written into their labor contracts. Some of this technology is already in use, such as automated check-in, valet tickets, and bartender robots in some resorts.
The sudden removal of daily room cleanings also poses safety and health concerns for the housekeeping staff, the union argues. Jennifer Black, a guest room attendant at Flamingo Las Vegas, describes the job's strain by having to clean 13 rooms a day. She emphasizes that rooms uncleaned for days took an even longer time, leading them to work through lunch breaks.