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Union strikes are hitting Nevada and beyond. Why are so many happening now?

Culinary Workers Union Local 226
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This week, Culinary Union workers voted to authorize a strike. The bartenders union did the same. The teacher’s union contract dispute with the school district is now in the hands of an arbitrator.

Over the summer, nurses protested working conditions. Flight attendants protested pay. In July, a third local Starbucks, this one in North Las Vegas, voted to unionize.

Then beyond Nevada, screenwriters were on strike for five months. Actors are on strike. The United Auto Workers began its strike earlier this month.

And all of it begs the question: Why so many workers unhappy, or feeling overworked and underpaid? Why now? What exactly is going on? If workers are fed up, what’s led to this?

WHY IT'S HAPPENING

Although there are many factors contributing to the influx of striking and unionization;, one big factor is the pandemic's effect on labor.

Ruben Garcia is a labor law professor at UNLV's William S. Boyd School of Law and he stressed the pandemic triggered some bargaining power that employees didn't know they had.

"There's a general view of many workers that they have the upper hand in terms of bargaining power because of some factors that we're seeing in the economy," said Garcia. "The difficulty that [employers] are having finding workers, the inflation numbers certainly have affected a lot of workers interests in getting higher pay. But I think the pandemic has really shown that workers they really need to band together in many instances, because they felt very isolated. Whether it was the pandemic and being away from their colleagues or whether it was employer policies that put them on the front lines; they realized that through collective bargaining they could have safety protections they didn't have under the law."

Another huge reason for striking and organized labor is the simple fact that employees have the upper hand right now when it comes to job availability versus employee availability.

Professor of Economics at UNLV Jeff Waddoups said ever since the economic recession of 2008, employees have slowly started to gain leverage over employers.

"One of the things that gives workers power is the ability to quit a job that they don't like and go to something better," said Waddoups. "Back in the Great Recession, there were like 600 workers for every 100 job openings. Now there are 60 workers for every 100 job openings. So, workers have a lot more power and and they're exerting this power by organizing and finding ways to get a better deal from their employers."

CULINARY UNION VOTES TO STRIKE

The biggest union in Nevada, along with the bartenders union, authorized a strike vote in response to their casino property contracts expiring. Negotiations are expected to continue for a couple of weeks, but if no contract is reached, it could mean more than 40,000 union members will go on strike.

Secretary-Treasurer of the Culinary Union Local 226, Ted Pappageorge, talked about why they are contemplating a strike and where the negotiations are at.

"We're proposing five major points in negotiations," said Pappageorge. "One is the largest wage increases that we've ever proposed, but also money to make sure that we fund our health care, which is all private equity owned now, we are dealing with cost increases and trying to negotiate those. Also pensions, so that people have an ability to retire. The idea that you can just rely on Social Security is important, but that's not enough. The second piece is workload reduction, especially in housekeeping. The idea that companies are charging more than ever for rooms, but they're telling guests that we're not going to clean your rooms; it's really just about eliminating labor and cutting costs and workers. Companies are not agreeing to having daily room cleaning and that affects our jobs. The third thing is safety. We negotiated safety panic buttons, whether you're working up in the hotels cleaning the rooms or you're a cocktail server out on the floor and vulnerable, but now we're proposing to expand that to other classifications; plus sitting safety committees that members can be a part of. Also, additional protections that require companies to track repeat offenders, whether it's sexual harassment or assaults, that these guests can't simply keep coming back over and over."

The Union is also pushing for protections against emerging technology like artificial intelligence. But how far apart are casino companies and the union in negotiations?

"We're dollars apart on the economics unfortunately, and when it comes to technology, workload reductions, we're not seeing eye to eye; it's a huge issue when it comes to job security," said Pappageorge.

IN THE WORDS OF AN EMPLOYEE

Eileen Scott is a Culinary Union member who works as a cocktail server at Harrah's Las Vegas, and she is not fearful of striking if it means she'll receive the respect and representation she thinks she deserves from her employer.

"What we do know is that we can't stay where we are right now," said Scott. "As a union, we have to push, we're known to go out on strike to be heard and be understood. We go out there on the street and hopefully the company comes around and sees that we are needed. During COVID, I want them to know that we worked really hard; we put our health in jeopardy. We're not asking for anything that we don't deserve."

She continued, "We're not standing alone. We are the people, we are Vegas, we are here to bring in the people; the customers, we are here to serve them. We are proud to be here. We're all together, and seeing my brothers and sisters with me; it's going to be okay."


Guests: Ruben Garcia, professor of law and co-director, UNLV Workplace Law Program; Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer, Culinary Workers Union Local 226; Eileen Scott, cocktail server, Harrah’s Las Vegas and member, Culinary Workers Union Local 226; Jeff Waddoups, professor of economics, UNLV

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Christopher Alvarez is a news producer and podcast audio editor at Nevada Public Radio for the State of Nevada program, and has been with them for over a year.
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