Culinary, Bartenders, Teachers ― three strikes, who’s out?

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The sun sets on the Thomas & Mack Center, where Culinary Union members approved a strike in a 95% margin on Sept. 26. Photo by Anthony Paculan.

Three labor unions serving Las Vegas are addressing contract details with employers, leaving nearly 60,000 workers’ benefits and job security in limbo. With contracts expiring and movements to strike passing, the future of Clark County is hanging in the balance, but who really loses in this war of attrition?

The Culinary Union and the affiliated Bartenders Union serve over 50,000 Las Vegas-based hospitality employees. As of Sept. 15, a large majority of these employees in over 20 casinos have been working under an expired contract, leading to a Sept. 26 vote authorizing the Culinary Union to call a strike at any date or time. 

As of now, the Culinary Union continues to negotiate under good faith, with further negotiations occurring with MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, and Wynn Resorts throughout the first week of October. However, they still hold the right to call a strike if negotiations aren’t sufficient ― a particularly troubling outcome considering the upcoming Formula One races and convention season.

Similarly, the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) has been negotiating with CCSD over teacher contracts that expired back on July 1; CCSD teachers have been working under expired contracts since. While Nevada law states government employees such as teachers can not strike, “coordinated sickouts” have been occurring at schools across the valley.

All three unions demand pay raises among other benefits. CCEA is calling for 11.875% and 9.875% total pay raises for the two years of the contract, along with step and column increases. Right now, the lowest CCSD teacher starting salary is $43,101.

The Culinary and Bartenders Unions are also demanding pay raises, rallying behind the “One Job Should Be Enough” platform. Culinary Union secretary-treasurer Ted Pappageorge has not publicly disclosed specific figures amidst negotiations, although labor organization Unite Here has estimated the average Culinary Union wage to be $26 per hour. 

The Conference Board, a nonpartisan organization focusing on business and societal advancement, emphasized the importance of employee wages rising with the rate of inflation in a 2021 study. According to CoinNews Media Group’s U.S. inflation calculator, 2023’s current inflation rate is at 3.7%, following drastic rates of 7% and 6.5% in 2021 and 2022 respectively. 

Another way to measure wages is to base it on cost of living. Annually, the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines a cost-of-living adjustment rate to increase the Social Security benefits payable for the year. In 2021 and 2022, the SSA’s adjustment rates were 5.9% and 8.7% respectively.

By comparison, CCSD teachers are currently entitled to a 3% salary increase every year. 

A final way to measure wages in one region is to determine a living wage. Academics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a living wage calculator that determines poverty and living wages in different counties. They determine the wages based upon various expenses, such as food, gas and child-care. 

According to their calculator, a single adult with one child would need to be making $35.82 per hour to make a living wage in Clark County, which is equivalent to $74,505 per year. Based on this number, most employees working under any of the three negotiating unions are earning less than a living wage.

Many UNLV students and graduates have voiced concerns about the ongoing strikes.

“I’m about to start my first year of teaching, and in a way I don’t even know what I’m getting myself into,” UNLV graduate Jordyan Hansen said. “A big plus to this field is union protection, so I hope it all falls into place as it should.”

Student Jesslin Wells also voiced similar concerns, particularly for her family members in the field. “My mom works in the money cages, and she’s a [culinary] union member,” Wells said. “She goes through so much hard labor at work, and the biggest solace was knowing she was being compensated very well for it. But now, I don’t know.”

Current student Jason Luzano was worried about crossing picket lines. “It’s about that time in my career where I’m looking for internship opportunities, and the Strip is a really big option,” Luzano said. “While I know I may not be applying for the same jobs as the Culinary Union employees, working in these casinos while it’s all going down still doesn’t sit right with me.”

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