Less than a week before the Stanley Cup Finals are expected to bring a flood of sports fans to Las Vegas, Nevada’s largest labor union has voted to authorize a strike that could paralyze the biggest casinos on the strip and cost the tourist magnet a fortune.
Tens of thousands of cooks, servers, bartenders and housekeepers have threatened to walk off their jobs as early as June 1 at 34 resorts, including Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood and MGM Grand, if the companies fail to ink a new five-year contract with the Culinary Union, which represents 50,000 hospitality workers in Sin City.
The union’s demands go beyond typical bargaining goals: In addition to higher wages on the back of Trump's corporate tax cuts, workers are requesting stronger job protections against automation and enhanced safety procedures to curb sexual harassment.
“We know technology is coming, but workers shouldn’t be pushed out or left behind,” Chad Neanover, a cook at Margaritaville, a Caesars property, said in a statement.
Las Vegas built its economy on tourism, and hospitality employees tend to be particularly vulnerable to automation and sexual harassment, studies have shown.
Labor leaders are calling for employers to offer job training to workers who are most susceptible to automation. For instance, the casinos would agree to teach a cashier how to monitor a kiosk rather than laying her off.
The union is also seeking emergency buttons at resorts for those who enter guest rooms alone.
The union has extra leverage in the run-up to the Stanley Cup, said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Adviser, which tracks tourism trends. The city’s new hockey team, the Golden Knights, made the playoffs in its first year, and Las Vegas will host at least two of the games next week.
“A full-scale walkout, without a doubt, would hurt business,” Curtis said.
Big-game events, such as NCAA basketball tournaments, usually draw between 80,000 and 100,000 visitors. He expects that a playoff involving the fledgling home team could attract an even larger number, though there is no official projection.
That’s on top of the usual tourists: 3.7 million came in March, according to the city’s latest data, and 3.6 million arrived in June. Hotel occupancy rates are already at 90 percent. (Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood and MGM did not respond to The Post’s requests for comment.)
“People want to be part of the party, watch games and bet on them,” Curtis said. “The games are on at every bar. This city has a fever.”
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the city's tourism agency, declined to comment on the potential economic impact of a walkout.
“Our resort partners and their union representation have traditionally maintained a good working relationship,” it said in a statement. “We continue to monitor the situation but are not directly involved in negotiations and are respectful of the collective bargaining process.”
The last time the culinary union led a strike in Las Vegas was in 1984, when about 15,000 workers walked out of their jobs. The action lasted 67 days and cost an estimated $75 million in wages and benefits, said Stephen Moore, director for the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
The union said the strike “crippled” business on the strip.
Bethany Khan, director of communications at the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, said nobody wants a strike, but the workers must fight for what they deserve.
The #MeToo movement has added new items to their list of demands, she said. Along with safety buttons, the employees hope resorts will pledge to take harassment seriously and release clear policies on the issue.
“We want casinos to enforce zero tolerance of harassment by guests and high-rollers and VIP clientele,” she said.
Hotel and food workers file a disproportionate share of sexual harassment complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — at least three times more than employees in higher-paying fields, according to a recent analysis of government data from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.
In February, casino mogul Steve Wynn was forced to resign from the resort empire he founded after several former employees, including masseuses and manicurists, accused him of coercing them into sexual acts. (Wynn denied the reports.) In a lawsuit, workers called him “dangerous to female employees.”
The Culinary Union also aims to stay ahead of technological advancement, which is already changing the world of work in Las Vegas.
A January report from the University of Redlands, a private school in California, found that Las Vegas is the U.S. city most at risk for losing jobs to technology, thanks to its outsize reliance on the hospitality industry.
Over the next 20 years, more than two-thirds of jobs — cashiers, room attendants, game dealers — could be wiped out by machines, researchers predicted. Robots are best suited to take on repetitive tasks, and many hospitality roles follow predictable patterns.
Michael Leroy, a labor and law professor at the University of Illinois, said the culinary union isn’t the first labor group to rally against the computerization of work.
Employees who serve tourists, however, might have a stronger argument, Leroy said, because some consumers in surveys say they still prefer human contact.
“I would expect more service workers to really resist automation,” he said.