The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas is the largest local of UNITE HERE, which represents over 250,000 hospitality workers throughout the U.S. and Canada in hotel, gaming, food, service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, and airport industries. The Culinary Union is one of the fastest growing private sector local unions in the United States. Membership has climbed from 18,000 union workers in 1987 to approximately 57,000 members today. The Culinary Union represents more members than any other union in Nevada.
Chartered in 1935, the Culinary Union has been a leader in the fight for decent wages, better working conditions, family health insurance and secure pensions. Culinary Union members work as housekeepers, kitchen workers, cooks, food servers, porters, and cocktail servers in casino resorts in Las Vegas and Reno. The Culinary Union also represents food service workers in airports and industrial laundries.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Las Vegas workers experienced firsthand the rapid change in the workplace as corporations began to enter the casino industry, which previously had been dominated by family-owned companies.
In 1984, the casinos’ refusal to negotiate improved health insurance coverage led to a citywide strike of 18,000 union workers. While the Culinary Union prevailed in the strike and won better health coverage (the Culinary Health Fund plan that union members have today) it was a wake-up call for members of the Culinary Union.
The years following the 1984 strike were a time of rebuilding for the Union. The Culinary Union fought to improve existing contracts and organize new casinos as they opened. During the 1990s, the Culinary Union kept pace with a booming Las Vegas. Since the opening of Mirage in 1989 (the first of Las Vegas’ “mega-resorts”), the Culinary Union has organized more than 40,000 new workers.
The 1990s were also a time of tough strikes as workers at the Horseshoe and Frontier Casinos successfully struck to protect the Union standard of living. The Frontier Strike was one of the longest in U.S. history––lasting six years, four months and ten days. All the 550 strikers victoriously returned to work in 1998 with seniority on the job and back pension service credits.
Today, Culinary Union members continue to fight for all that they have achieved––an opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. This means free health care, a secure retirement, owning a home and sending their children to college. The Culinary Union also continues to organize more non-Union casino workers into its ranks as the Las Vegas economy continues to recover and gain more jobs.