LAS VEGAS (AP) — Thousands of hotel workers fighting for new union contracts rallied on the Las Vegas Strip on Wednesday evening, halting rush-hour traffic before dozens were arrested for sitting in the street. The stepped-up labor unrest aimed to draw attention to negotiations with three major casino companies.
Seated in two separate circles, workers in red T-shirts blocked cars in both directions for roughly 30 minutes as the sun sank in the west, casting golden rays across one of the most recognizable stretches of the Strip near the Bellagio fountain, the Eiffel Tower replica and Caesars Palace. Police officers with zip ties eventually started taking protesters into custody, leading them to a white police bus with flashing red and blue lights.
Las Vegas police said 58 people were cited for assembling to disturb the peace, a misdemeanor.
“The event was peaceful,” Lt. Mark Lourenco said via text message.
The Culinary Workers Union overwhelmingly voted 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 Wednesday.
It also comes at the same time casino workers in Michigan, including employees of the MGM Grand Detroit, are on strike.
Leaders of the Culinary Workers Union said they wanted a show of force ahead of any potential strike.
As the protest began, Kimberly Dopler, a cocktail server at Wynn Las Vegas since it opened in 2005, said she planned to halt traffic.
“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.
Two visitors from Missouri, Cindy Hiatt and Michelle Shirley, watched as the rally began. They said 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.
A Las Vegas 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, said in an interview after the protest that the union will cover all legal fees for the workers who were arrested, including bail and any costs for legal representation in court.
Kahn said all union members currently receive health insurance and earn about $26 hourly, including benefits. She 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.
Leslie Lilla, a cocktail server at the Bellagio for 25 years, said earlier this month that union members have been preparing for a possible strike and are ready and willing to walk off the job.
“We’re ready to show our company by our feet, and that means walking ourselves right out of the building,” she said. “So we’ve been saving and we’ve been putting money into our accounts.”
Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.