Thousands of Las Vegas hospitality workers are gearing up to picket on the Strip this week, but they are not going on strike quite yet. What the Culinary Local 226 union are calling “informational picket lines” are scheduled for 10:00am to 5:00pm on Thursday in front of Park MGM, Paris Las Vegas, and The Linq Hotel. As more picketers join the line, it is expected to stretch to New York-New York, Planet Hollywood, Horseshoe Las Vegas, Flamingo, and Harrah’s.

The union members will still go to work, so this is not a work stoppage at this point. Anyone picketing will do so before or after their shift.

The union wants to negotiate a new five-year contract with the casino-hotels; the Thursday demonstration is a warning shot of sorts, designed to show power in numbers.

There were negotiations with MGM, Caesars, and Wynn last week, but Union secretary-treasurer Ted Pappageorge called them “very disappointing.” They’ll be back at the bargaining table again next Monday.

The contracts with the above casino companies expired in September; union members have overwhelmingly approved a strike authorization vote. The 60,000-member-strong Culinary Union is Nevada’s labor union. 40,000 of its members are working on expired contracts (the terms of the contracts are still in effect) and would be the first to strike if it comes to that.

It would be the first major labor strike in Las Vegas in 32 years. Or 25 and a half years, depending on how you count. Yes, the last big walkout in Las Vegas lasted that long.

The strike began on September 21, 1991 when 550 Culinary Union members refused to keep working for the Frontier Hotel-Casino, as the property would not match union contracts offered by other casinos around town. The Frontier claimed poverty, saying it couldn’t compete with the bigger properties on price.

Years went by and still, the union members remained on strike. Finally, everyone saw a light at the end of the tunnel when Phillip Ruffin bought the Frontier in October 1997 for $167 million. He agreed to compensate the strikers for back pay and benefits to the tune of $3.5 million. Previous ownership picked up half that tab. Ruffin also committed another $20 million to give the Frontier a facelift.

The strike finally came to an end in February 1998, as Ruffin agreed to a new contract with the union that, among other things, bumped hourly wages by about $2. 280 of the 550 workers returned under the new contract, though 100 were laid off.

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