LAS VEGAS — Thousands of hotel workers fighting for new union contracts rallied on the Las Vegas Strip, halting rush hour traffic Wednesday night before police arrested dozens sitting in the street in stepped-up labor unrest that organizers say aims to draw attention to negotiations with three major casino companies.
Dozens of workers sat in two separate circles across multiple lanes of the Strip, stopping cars in both directions before police officers with zip ties started taking protesters into custody. They were led into a white police bus with red and blue lights flashing.
For about a half-hour, traffic ground to a halt on one of the most recognizable stretches of the Strip with views of the Bellagio fountain, the Eiffel Tower replica and Caesars Palace.
Las Vegas police said they had no immediate estimate of the number of arrests. The casinos had no immediate comment.
The Culinary Workers Union said ahead of the protest that 75 workers could be arrested for “civil disobedience” after they blocked traffic between the iconic Bellagio and Paris Las Vegas resorts — an area already facing significant road closures due to construction for the Formula 1 races scheduled to take over the Strip next month.
Kimberly Dopler, a cocktail server at Wynn Las Vegas since it opened in 2005, said in an interview as the protest began Wednesday that she planned to halt traffic. She said the fact that dozens of workers were willing to get arrested speaks volumes about the way casino companies view their employees.
“I’m hoping that the companies will listen to us and realize that we’re not joking. We’re ready to walk out,” she said.
Union leaders said the action was intended to signal a show of force ahead of any potential strike.
Visiting from Missouri, Cindy Hiatt and Michelle Shirley said as the rally began they won’t return to Las Vegas again during any potential strike by hotel workers.
“The hotels are going to have to realize that they’re not going to have people wanting to come to Vegas without these workers,” Hiatt said.
The rally follows the union’s overwhelming vote last month to authorize a strike if they don’t soon reach agreements with MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts. The companies did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment on the union’s latest job action.
It also comes at the same time casino workers in Michigan, including employees of the MGM Grand Detroit, are on strike.
In Las Vegas, a strike deadline has not yet been set as the union and casino companies return to the bargaining table this week. But Ted Pappageorge, the union’s secretary and treasurer, told reporters this month that thousands of workers who keep the Strip’s hotel-casinos humming could walk off the job in the coming weeks if the latest round of negotiations aren’t productive.
The culinary union is the largest labor union in Nevada with about 60,000 members. Contracts for about 40,000 of them in Las Vegas expired recently, and negotiations have been underway for months over topics such as pay and working conditions.
Bethany Khan, the union’s spokesperson, has said all members currently receive health insurance and earn about $26 hourly, including benefits. Khan declined to say how much the union is seeking in pay raises because “we do not negotiate in public,” although the union has said it is asking for “the largest wage increases ever negotiated” in its history.
The union hasn’t gone on strike in more than three decades. A walkout would be the latest in a series of high-profile job actions around the country, including walkouts in Hollywood and the auto production lines in Detroit.