The Recent History of the
Culinary Union in Las Vegas
The story of the Culinary Union's rise to power in Las Vegas is a dramatic tale in which workers battle mega-resorts and wealthy casino families in the most unlikely union town in America. In the past decade, the casino economy and its enviable standard of living have been responsible for Las Vegas's explosive growth. Thousands of people move to the Las Vegas Valley each month because good jobs are being generated in the gaming industry. The jobs are part of a growing national service economy, but here they come with middle-class wages and benefits. That standard of living, which allows a hotel maid to own her own home, has been established through years of struggle by the Culinary Union, an affiliate of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE) and representative of many of the city's casino workers.
Since a brutal citywide strike in 1984, when some gaming companies undertook an unprecedented effort to destroy the union, the Culinary Union and its members have fought a series of strategic battles leading to the union's revival. These struggles were instigated by factions of casino owners who bet that they could break the only organization in the state not controlled by their wealth and influence in a grab for absolute power. Instead, the union charted a course through these battles that took advantage of a power struggle within the industry: gaming's founding families, who were used to dominating the power structure, were losing economic and political ground to emerging casino corpo-