Debra Jefferies, a waitress at the Horseshoe Las Vegas, spent much of the week wondering whether she would picket, as she did in 1984, the last time there was a major strike among hospitality workers in the city.
“There was solidarity then, as there has been now,” said Jefferies, 68. “Each generation has taken a step forward to demand better working conditions.”
Nearly 35,000 union members, including Ms. Jefferies, had threatened to go on strike on Friday against the city’s three big casino operators after months of negotiations failed to reach a new five-year labor agreement.
But last-minute maneuvering averted a strike as resort owners — Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts — reached agreements, one by one, on tentative contracts with the city’s two most powerful unions.
The end agreement, with Wynn Resorts, arrived early Friday, a few hours before the strike deadline. The deal, when ratified, would provide “exceptional benefits and overall compensation to our employees,” Wynn said in a statement. One of the two unions, the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, said the contract included the largest negotiated wage increase in its 88-year history.
A strike was shaping up to be a major disruption to a series of major events, starting with the Las Vegas Grand Prix, a Formula 1 car race along the Strip that is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors late next year. week.
It was the latest crucible for Las Vegas and Nevada, which has the highest unemployment rate in the country (currently 5.4 percent) and has struggled to recover since the onset of the pandemic shut down the Strip for months.
The hotel occupancy rate remains below pre-pandemic levels. In September, it was about 82 percent, compared to 88 percent in 2019. And union officials say there are about 20 percent fewer hospitality workers in the city than before the pandemic. However, even with lower occupancy rates, there have been some indicators of a boost: Fewer people are spending more money. Tax revenues are 35 percent higher than before the pandemic.
Along with the Formula 1 race, Las Vegas hosts the National Finals Rodeo in December and the Super Bowl in February.
Bill Hornbuckle, MGM’s chief executive, said on an earnings call Wednesday that his company had sold more than 10,000 tickets to the Grand Prix and expected to generate $60 million in additional hotel revenue in the coming days.
Those risks made a labor agreement even more crucial.
The dispute pitted Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165, affiliates of the labor confederation UNITE HERE, against Caesars, MGM and Wynn, which operate 18 hotels along the Strip and are the three largest employers. of the state. Ted Pappageorge, head of Local 226, compared the negotiations to “three big planes landing at once.”
Unions pushed for contracts that would raise wages and ease concerns about the introduction of new technology that could affect jobs. Many hotels, for example, have reduced front desk staff and instead created mobile check-in desks in an effort to reduce waits.
Another important factor the union focused on during the seven months of negotiations was the daily cleaning of the rooms. Since the pandemic, many of the hotels along the Strip have cut back on daily room cleaning services for guests, a move that union leaders said cost them jobs. And lawmakers voted this year to end a state law, passed during the pandemic, that required hotel rooms to be disinfected daily. The strict rules that now require daily cleaning of rooms were important victories in contract negotiations.
“Hospitality workers will now be able to support their families and thrive in Las Vegas,” Pappageorge said. He added that the contract with MGM Resorts would provide “far greater” compensation increases than the last contract, which amounted to an overall increase of $4.57 per hour in wages, health care and pensions.
Details of the tentative deals have not been released, but terms are expected to be similar between the three companies. Under the contract that expired Sept. 15, union members earn $26 an hour on average.
Stephen M. Miller, an economics professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the post-pandemic sea change in the balance of power between management and labor was clearly demonstrated in Las Vegas.
Miller said government stimulus money during the pandemic gave laid-off workers, including many who worked in the Las Vegas culinary union, the resources to reconsider their future career paths.
“The labor market is immersed in a major restructuring process, which has given workers more bargaining power,” he said. “The resurgence of strikes and threats of strikes is the observable result of that shift in power.”
If a strike had occurred, Miller said, it would have been detrimental to the state’s economy.
“The economic recovery here in Nevada has been uneven,” he said. “None of the parties wanted a strike. “It would have been terrible for the economy and the reputation of the state.”
Even before the labor ferment of the past year in the auto industry, Hollywood and elsewhere, Nevada’s culinary workers were a particularly powerful force.
It was members of the culinary union, including housekeepers, cooks, doormen, laundry workers, servers and bartenders, whose political influence was vital in gaining legislative approval for Covid-19 safety precautions.
And they often help influence elections as a powerful base for Democrats.
In 2020, members knocked on more than 500,000 doors and helped Joseph R. Biden Jr. win the state by about two percentage points. Last year, during the 2022 midterm elections, they doubled down on their door-knocking efforts, helping Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto secure her re-election. (Despite his efforts, the incumbent Democratic governor, Steve Sisolak, who faced fierce criticism over pandemic shutdowns, lost by a narrow margin.)
That kind of support may again be crucial for Biden next year in a swing state where a recent New York Times/Siena College poll showed him trailing his likely Republican opponent, former President Donald J. Trump, by 10 percentage points.
In a statement Friday, President Biden applauded the Culinary Union, saying, “Las Vegas has a long union history and workers have been critical to the city’s growth and success.”
“All workers, including hospitality workers, should have good jobs with fair wages and benefits that give them the opportunity to support themselves and their families,” Biden said, highlighting the support he has received in the past from members of the union.
Yusett Salomon was among the workers knocking on doors for Democrats during the 2022 election. He has worked as a warehouse operator transporting pallets of food and plants at the Wynn for the past two years, earning $22 an hour.
On Thursday, Salomon sat inside a cavernous hotel conference room watching the negotiations. “There is no better time than now to fight for what we deserve,” he said.
Linda Curtis and J. Eduardo Moreno contributed reports.