The Culinary Union was chartered on November 1, 1935 and 2015 marked the 80th anniversary of the organization that has improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Nevada hospitality workers and their families with union wages and benefits. In eight decades, the Culinary Union has become an essential economic institution and a strong political force in the Battle Born State.
The Culinary Union has won a middle-class standard of living for over 753,000 hospitality workers in the union’s 80 years through rank-and-file organizing and mass actions. Its membership has risen from 18,000 in 1987 to approximately 57,000 members today.
“We are incredibly proud of our members, whose hard work and sacrifices over the years has made Las Vegas a strong union town,” said Geoconda Arguello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer for the Culinary Union. “Nevada is a place where working men and women have a real opportunity to provide for their families and achieve the American Dream. When the workers who make Las Vegas run have good jobs with fair wages, job security, and good health benefits, the entire community benefits.”
The Culinary Union is Nevada’s largest immigrant organization with members who come from 167 countries and speak over 40 different languages. Its diverse membership -- approximately 55% women and 56% Latino / 19% White / 15% Asian / 10% Black — consists of guest room attendants, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks, and kitchen workers.
Highlights from the Culinary Union’s 80 Years:
1960s: The Culinary Health Fund, founded in the 1960s, provides health care benefits to over 130,000 participants in Las Vegas. Culinary Union members don’t pay a monthly premium for family coverage.
1971: The Culinary & Bartenders Pension Plan has provided over $1.6 billion in pension payments to members and their families since it was founded in 1971, so that workers can retire with dignity.
1990: Hattie Canty became the first African-American woman to be elected to be president of the Culinary Union. Canty, a strong leader and former hotel housekeeper from the Maxim Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, was instrumental in creating the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas.
1993: The Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, founded in 1993, is a nationally recognized model of labor and management cooperation and is a partnership between the Culinary and Bartenders Unions and 28 properties on the Las Vegas Strip. The Culinary Academy has trained over 40,000 workers in free high-quality programs which facilitate entry into the hospitality industry and improve workers’ ability to move up in their careers.
1997: The Culinary Health Fund was the first health plan in Nevada to recognize and provide benefits to same-sex domestic partners, 17 years before gay marriage was legal in the state. The Culinary Health Fund also covers medications and counselling services associated with HIV/AIDS.
1998: The longest successful strike in the history of the United States, the Frontier Strike, ends after 6 years, 4 months, and 10 days on February 1, 1998. Over 550 workers maintained a 24/7 picket line and not one striker ever crossed the line. At the end of the strike, all the strikers returned to work.
1998: Culinary Union members played an instrumental role in Senator Harry Reid’s re-election by 401 votes in 1998.
2001: The Culinary Union’s Citizenship Project, created in 2001, has helped over 11,000 workers through the entire process (application and preparation for the exam) to become U.S. citizens for free since it was founded.
2001: The Culinary Pharmacy, founded in 2001, has become the busiest pharmacy in Nevada and all prescriptions dispensed there are completely free to Culinary Union members and their families.
2002: Over 25,000 union members voted on May 16, 2002, to approve a strike with major employers on the Strip and Downtown. The next day, contracts were settled and included new language to ensure that over 11,000 housekeepers had safer workloads and better working conditions.
2007: The Culinary Union’s Tip Earners Defense Fund was created in 2007 to assist tip workers who have had issues with IRS audits due to tipped income or inappropriate IRS allocation amounts. The Tip Fund also holds education seminars to inform workers on how to properly keep tip records.
2008: Over 920 families have bought their first homes with down payment assistance help from the Culinary and Bartenders Housing Partnership, founded in 2008. The program has provided approximately $6 million in down payment assistance and closing costs.
2008: UNITE HERE, the parent organization of the Culinary Union, became the first labor union in the country to endorse then Senator Barack Obama, and Culinary Union members won Nevada for Obama on Election Day.
2012: Geoconda Arguello-Kline, a Nicaraguan immigrant, and a former housekeeper at the Fitzgerald’s Casino in Downtown Las Vegas, is elected as the first Latina leader of the Culinary Union. Arguello-Kline serves as Vice President of UNITE HERE and is a board member of the Culinary Academy, the Citizenship Project, and the Culinary and Bartenders’ Pension Fund.
2012: 110 union workers took a leave-of-absence from their jobs in 2012 to work with the Culinary Union’s Political Team to register and turn out members and their families to vote – approximately 70,000 voters across Clark County are credited to the Culinary Union’s massive get-out-the-vote effort and delivered Nevada for President Obama again.
2012: The Culinary Union endorsed and helped to elect Steven Horsford to Congress. Congressman Horsford was the former CEO of the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas and Nevada’s first African-American state senate Majority Leader.
2014: The Culinary Union partnered with UNLV’s Public History Program and University Libraries to present an historical exhibit, “Line in the Sand: The People, Power, and Progress of the Culinary Union” to the community. Exhibit details: www.UNLVPublicHistory.com/Culinary.
2015: The Culinary Union’s Grievance Department has worked on over 23,000 cases and won $5.4 million in wages and back pay for workers who have been fired or suspended unfairly since 2010.
2015: The Culinary Union donated a historical photo collection of an estimated 10,000 images, film negatives, and slides to the UNLV University Libraries. This extensive collection will be curated, digitized, and preserved. A wide selection of images from the collection will be made available online for community members, students, and researchers around the world.
2016: The Culinary Union had the largest and strongest political operation in the battleground state of Nevada. 300 UNITE HERE and Culinary Union members took a two month leave-of-absence from their hotel and casino jobs and knocked on over 350,000 doors, talked to over 75,000 voters, and delivered 54,000 early votes as political organizers. The Culinary Union went into Election Day with over 60% of membership registered to vote and with rank-and-file membership fully engaged, Nevadans elected the first Latino to Congress - Ruben Kihuen, the first Latina to the Senate - Catherine Cortez Masto, and the former Culinary Union political director, Yvanna Cancela, was appointed the first Latina State Senator.
In celebration of its 80th year anniversary, the Culinary Union released a new video highlighting current organizing campaigns: “Changing Lives in Las Vegas (http://bit.ly/culinary80).”