MGM Resorts International, the largest employer on the Las Vegas Strip, was close to reaching a tentative deal with the hotel workers union, the casino company’s CEO said as the clock ticked closer to a union deadline for a sweeping strike.
CEO Bill Hornbuckle said Wednesday in an earnings call at the same time negotiations were taking place in a casino ballroom that he was confident a “historic” agreement would come together before 5 a.m. Friday, when the Culinary Workers Union is threatening to strike if negotiations fail.
“We know from listening to our employees that they are looking for a pay increase to combat inflation, among other concerns,” Hornbuckle said. “This deal, when announced, will do just that.”
During a break in bargaining, the union’s chief contract negotiator said he welcomed Hornbuckle’s sentiments.
“His representatives are here,” Ted Pappageorge said from the ballroom where negotiations were taking place. “I hope they’re listening to him.”
Since April, the union has been fighting for new five-year contracts for 35,000 of its members who work at 18 properties owned or operated by MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts.
The union caught a break at dawn Wednesday when it reached a tentative deal with Caesars that covers 10,000 workers at the company’s flagship Caesars Palace, as well as Flamingo, Harrah’s, Horseshoe, Paris Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood, Cromwell and Linq.
The pact with Caesars came after 20 hours of bargaining that began Tuesday and stretched into Wednesday morning.
Caesars said in a statement that the agreement “recognizes the integral contributions our Team Members have made to the success we have seen in Las Vegas over the last few years” with meaningful wage increases and opportunities for growth tied to plans to bring more union jobs to the Strip.
Outside Caesars Palace on Wednesday, visitor Joshua Guray told The Associated Press he came in on a morning flight from Los Angeles and had planned to be in Las Vegas for less than 24 hours.
The only item on his itinerary was a dinner reservation with a friend at one of his favorite restaurants — Bacchanal, the luxury buffet at Caesars Palace.
Guray said he didn’t know that tens of thousands of hotel workers were in the middle of contract negotiations before he planned his trip. He said if a strike had coincided with his travel plans, he would have ditched his dinner reservations rather than cross a picket line.
“I try to stand in solidarity with other workers,” he said. “Life can be hard out there, so I understand what they’re fighting for.”
A sweeping walkout could still happen if the union doesn’t win contracts before Friday for 20,000 workers at MGM Resorts and 5,000 workers at Wynn Resorts, which will return to the bargaining table Thursday with the union.
But experts say a walkout isn’t likely now that the union has a blueprint for a contract after reaching its breakthrough deal with Caesars.
“Historically, this is pretty much how it always goes: As soon as one company reaches a deal, the others just fall right in line,” said Bill Werner, an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, whose research includes hospitality law and labor relations.
But, he said, “I would say this is as close as we’ve come in a long time to an actual strike.”
A strike by workers at the two remaining companies still would cut to the heart of the city’s economic backbone and significantly disrupt operations at some of the most recognizable Las Vegas hotel-casinos as they prepare to host hundreds of thousands of people for next week’s Formula 1 debut on the Strip.
It would also be the latest in a series of high-profile actions nationwide in what has been a big year for labor unions. That includes walkouts in Hollywood, UPS’ contentious negotiations that threatened to disrupt the nation’s supply chain, and the ongoing hotel workers strike at Detroit’s three casinos, including MGM Grand Detroit.
The inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix course will feature sweeping views of many of the casinos still at risk of walkouts: Aria, Bellagio, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, New York-New York, Park MGM and Wynn and Encore resorts.
The hospitality workers say they will strike for as long as it takes to get fair contracts — from the housekeepers and utility porters who work behind the scenes to keep the Strip’s mega-resorts humming, to the bartenders and cocktail servers who provide the customer service that has helped make Las Vegas famous.
“I am willing to go on strike because I have a 10-year-old daughter who comes to negotiations with me, and she is going to inherit all of this,” said Tiffany Thomas, a guest room attendant at Mandalay Bay. “I refuse to sit back and watch what we’ve built crumble. I want my daughter to look at me and know I fought for a better future.”
The union has said it is seeking historic pay raises, better benefits and improved working conditions. Workers have also said they want better job security amid advancements in technology that already have eliminated some positions, as well as stronger security protections, including more safety buttons on casino floors.
Members currently receive health insurance and earn about $26 hourly, including benefits, union spokesperson Bethany Khan said. The union hasn’t revealed what it has been seeking in pay raises because, Khan said, “we do not negotiate in public.”
Khan said any deal reached before Friday would have to be approved by the union’s rank and file. After that, she said, terms of the contracts would be made public.