“It’s good if we have to strike. The union does everything for us, that’s why we fight,” said Wendy Almada, a guest room attendant in Las Vegas, in a phone interview May 25.
She and some 25,000 other members of UNITE HERE’s Culinary and Bartenders unions in that city voted three days earlier to authorize a strike once their contract expires June 1. Almada, 43, has worked at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino for seven years. Of those casting ballots, 99 percent voted yes.
“Workers are showing a spirit of solidarity and fight for what they deserve,” Bethany Khan, spokesperson for Culinary Workers Union Local 226 told the Militant. “Workers don’t want to strike but will do so to protect what we fought so hard for over all these years.”
The union includes bartenders, guest room attendants, cocktail servers, food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks and kitchen workers. The workers are fighting for increased wages, job security against the bosses’ drive to subcontract out jobs, protection against layoffs when the bosses introduce new technology, measures to protect workers from sexual harassment, and safeguards for immigrants with temporary status.
The union contracts cover 50,000 workers at 34 casino resorts and hotels on the Las Vegas Strip and downtown, with MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corp. operating more than half of these properties.
As union members gathered to vote May 22 at the large Thomas and Mack Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, some workers chanted, “Hey Caesars, look around, Vegas is a union town” and “No contract, no peace.”
“Some employees stopped by in their casino-resort uniforms on their way to or from work,” reported The Associated Press, “while others donned shirts emblazoned with ‘Vegas strong’ and the union logo.”
Oleg Stewart, a 58-year-old cook at Harrah’s, told the Nevada Independent that he wanted to ensure that a younger generation has the same benefits he has had over his 20 years with the union.
“You know because we have people that were here before us and I’m doing my part to keep it going for the ones that’s going to be after,” he said. “We’re paving the way for them.”
Almada said that one of the main issues is countering sexual harassment at work. We need “space to protect our bodies and space because there is a lot of harassment,” she said. The union is demanding safety buttons for workers on the floors and to make sure radio and Wi-Fi work in the towers where guest room attendants work.
“The culinary union is the largest organization of immigrants” in Nevada, said Khan. Thousands marched on May Day demanding, “No deportations” to “show they’re not afraid and will keep fighting every day for their families and communities,” she said.
“A vote such as this is an expected part of the process,” MGM said in a statement after the results of the strike authorization vote was announced.
The unions are appealing to individuals and groups not to stay at any of the 34 casinos and hotels affected by the labor dispute.
“This will be a wake-up call to let (the companies) know we are together, we are united, we are not separated,” Lewis Thomas, a utility porter at the Tropicana casino hotel, told AP.