LAS VEGAS (AP) — Hundreds of unionized Las Vegas casino workers packed a university arena in red T-shirts and resort uniforms as they voted Tuesday on whether to call for a citywide strike that could have huge financial implications for the tourist-dependent destination.
Members of the Culinary Union cast ballots in the first of two separate sessions that were expected to draw 20,000 and 25,000 workers. A majority yes vote would not immediately affect the casinos but would give union negotiators a huge bargaining chip by allowing them to authorize a strike at any time starting June 1.
It comes as the contracts of 50,000 unionized workers will expire at midnight May 31 and negotiations for new five-year contracts have not led to meaningful agreements. Union officials say they want to increase wages, protect job security against the increasing adoption of technology at hotel-casinos, and strengthen language against sexual harassment.
The union last voted for a strike in 2002, but it and the casinos reached a deal before employees walked off the job. The last strike spanned 64 days more than three decades ago and cost the city millions of dollars.
Bartenders, housekeepers, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks and other kitchen workers employed at 34 properties were eligible to vote. Some stopped by in their uniforms on their way to work, while others donned shirts emblazoned with "Vegas Strong" and the union logo.
Outside the arena, they chanted, "Hey, Caesars, look around, Vegas is a union town."
MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment operate more than half of the properties that would be affected by a strike. They have said they are confident they will be able to reach mutually beneficial agreements with the union.
Don Leadbeter, a bellman at the MGM Grand, said workers want to protect their job security and ensure that employers provide training as they adopt more workplace technology.
He said workers are ready to strike. That's the way Lewis Thomas, a utility porter at the Tropicana casino-hotel, said he would vote.
"This will be a wake-up call to let them know we are together, we are united, we are not separated," Thomas said.
When casino workers across Las Vegas went on a strike in 1984, union members lost an estimated $75 million in wages and benefits and the city lost a similar amount in tourism revenue. Millions more were lost in gambling income.