Vegas casinos face threat of 1st worker strike in 3 decades

The possibility of 50,000 Las Vegas casino workers going on strike drew closer Thursday, with their contracts expiring at midnight and the prospects of new ones still uncertain.

The bartenders, housekeepers, bellmen and other unionized workers at 34 casino-hotels on the Strip and downtown Las Vegas have been negotiating new five-year contracts since February.

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But wages, workplace training and other issues have kept their union and employers from reaching agreements, pushing employees to authorize the first strike in more than 30 years at any time starting Friday.

Here's a look at the negotiations and a possible strike:

TO STRIKE OR NOT TO STRIKE

Ninety-nine percent of about 25,000 workers voted last week to authorize a strike after contracts expire. No date has been set, but they have begun signing up for strike pay, financial assistance and picketing shifts.

The Culinary Union and companies that would be affected if workers walk off the job had bargaining sessions this week for five-year contracts.

Analysts with Deutsche Bank put the likelihood of a citywide strike "as low" and said they believe negotiations could continue past Thursday.

"Recall, in 2013, the Culinary Union remained in negotiations with some Strip operators for several months post the June 2013 contract expiration," they wrote in a research note Wednesday. "Business during this time was uninterrupted."

The last citywide strike was in 1984, costing the city and workers millions of dollars.

ROOMS, KITCHENS AND LUGGAGE

The strike would mean no bartenders, housekeepers, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks and other kitchen workers at properties including Bellagio, Aria, Caesars Palace, Flamingo Las Vegas, Tropicana, Stratosphere, Golden Nugget and The D.

It comes as fans head to the tourist destination for the Stanley Cup Final.

MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment operate more than half the properties that would be affected by a strike. Both companies have declined to provide details of their contingency plans.

The union and hospitality experts have said the companies would likely use replacement workers and try to bring some in from their properties outside Las Vegas.

Casino-resorts that would not be affected include Wynn Las Vegas, Encore, The Venetian and Palazzo.

WAGES

The average hourly wage of Las Vegas Strip workers is $23, plus benefits such as premium-free health care, a pension and a 401(k) retirement savings plan, and $25,000 down-payment assistance for first-time homebuyers.

The union says it has asked MGM for average annual wage increases of 4 percent for each of the next five years. It says the company has countered with an approximate 2.7 percent raise.

Caesars workers have asked for an increase of 4.2 percent effective Friday, and annual increases of about 4 percent thereafter. The union says the company has offered an approximate 2.8 percent increase for each of the five years.

"The companies are making millions and millions of dollars, they are growing and that's excellent," said Geoconda Arguello-Kline, union secretary-treasurer and a former housekeeper. "We want them to share with the workers their success."

Both companies have declined to provide details of their proposals but have said they are confident they will reach agreements with the union.

OTHER DISPUTES

The union said it is asking for training on new skills and job opportunities as the companies adopt technology that can displace employees. It also wants contract language that would protect workers if properties are sold.

The labor organization, the largest in Nevada, also has proposed MGM and Caesars conduct a jointly funded independent study to analyze the workload of housekeepers.

The union has argued that hotel rooms have changed significantly, with new furniture and other amenities, since 2002, when the last workload study was conducted.

"I wouldn't be here today had not everybody gone out on strike in 1984 for those health benefits because I came down with a terminal illness," said Deborah Jeffries, a cocktail server. "It was very important to me that I had that, and it was well worth the walk for two and half months.

"We are ready and willing to do this again, not that we want it, but if need be, we will do it," she said.

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Follow Regina Garcia Cano on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reginagarciakNO .