Tentative deal reached to avert walkouts at half of Vegas casinos set to strike

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New York (CNN) — A tentative five-year labor deal has been reached between the Culinary union and Caesars Entertainment to avert a potential strike at its nine casinos along the Las Vegas Strip, although nine other casinos still face possible walkouts come Friday morning.

The details of the agreement, which was announced in a tweet by the union, are not yet available, but the union said it was reached after 20 straight hours of negotiations. It covers 10,000 union members who work as cooks, bartenders, waiters and waitresses and housekeepers at the nine casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment.

The nine casinos on the strip owned by the company are Caesars Forum, Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Horseshoe, Paris, Planet Hollywood, The Cromwell and The Linq.

The tentative deal will now be presented to rank-and-file members for a ratification vote. If they vote it down, they could still go on strike. But reaching a deal with one of the three casino operators along the strip increases the pressure on the other two companies to agree to similar deals before Friday morning’s strike deadline.

“We are excited to reach an agreement … which recognizes the integral contributions our team members have made to the success we have seen in Las Vegas over the last few years,” said a statement from the company. “Team members will see meaningful wage increases that align with our past performance, along with continued opportunities for growth tied to our future plans to bring more union jobs to the Las Vegas Strip. Through this agreement, Caesars Entertainment will ensure that as we grow, our Team Members grow with us.”

The strike threat comes just ahead of the city hosting its first F1 Grand Prix race that will include the Strip as a racetrack. Practice runs are scheduled for Thursday and Friday next week, and the race itself is set for Saturday, November 18. There are also concerts and other events scheduled, and by some estimates the weekend is expected to draw about 100,000 visitors to the city. Overall, the city has about 150,000 hotel rooms, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Wages, benefits, job security major issues

The union had not spelled out its bargaining demands heading into this final round of talks ahead of the strike deadline. But in an interview with CNN earlier this week prior to Wednesday’s tentative deal, Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer for the union, said improvements in pay and benefits are the central issue, along with job security.

“Obviously economics are a big deal. Everyone has been dealing with a big increase in the cost of living. It’s really hurt folks,” he said. “Profit margins through the roof, room rates are through the roof. The companies need to share the wealth.”

In Las Vegas, typical rents spiked nearly 40% from prior to the pandemic, according to Zillow. Typical rent reached a high of $1,861 a month in July of 2022, which was up 38% from $1,351 a month in July 2019. Since that peak, rents in Las Vegas have come down slightly, following national trends, and the typical rent in the city was $1,808 in September of this year. But that’s still 33% higher than rent in September 2019.

The average Culinary union member in Las Vegas makes about $26 an hour, according to the union, but that includes benefits such as health insurance and pensions.

The union has already negotiated an unusually strong benefits package, including a traditional pension plan that pays members a set monthly payment as long as they live, and a citizenship fund, that has helped 18,000 members become US citizens.

It also has culinary training to helps members in lower skill and lower paid jobs move into better paid positions, and there is a housing fund that pays as much as $25,000 toward the downpayment on a home purchase.

Progress in talks

Negotiations are scheduled for Wednesday with MGM Resorts International, which owns another eight casinos on the Strip — Aria, Bellagio, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, New York-New York and Park MGM. Talks also are scheduled for Thursday with Wynn Resorts, the other casino operator facing a strike threat.

The union has had 35,000 members at the three companies working under contract extensions since June. It has a separate deal with each company, allowing it to strike one, two or all three of them and has vowed to go on strike against any company not reaching a tentative deal by Friday morning at 5 am local time.

In an interview on Monday, Pappageorge said there has been progress in negotiations since the union set the Friday strike deadline.

“We’ve seen some movement. We’re cautiously optimistic,” he said ahead of Wednesday’s announcement.

There are 25,000 Culinary union members between those two companies. Even with the 10,000 workers at Caesars no longer planning to walk out, a strike by those remaining 25,000 union members would be the largest in the hospitality industry in US history. But dealers and front desk staff are not included in the union and the casinos are likely to try to stay open if there is a strike.

“Historically these companies continue to try to operate during strikes,” Pappageorge said. “The reality is it takes a massive amount of labor to operate these resorts. Vegas can’t function without these workers.”

Neither MGM nor Wynn would comment on the tentative deal at Caesars.

“We have had our own productive bargaining sessions with the union,” said Wynn in a statement. “We are working to reach an agreement soon.”

Strikes, and union wins, both up

Unions have been flexing their muscles this year, taking a number of workers on strike to levels not seen in decades. According to a strike tracker kept by Cornell University’s school of industrial and labor relations, there have been 348 strikes so far this year, up 56% from the same period of 2021.

US unions have been winning some large gains in recent negotiations, sometimes with a strike, sometimes without.

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