Capital & Main   ·   Link to Article

Las Vegas has long been a union town—but that’s started to shift. Inside the campaign to turn things around

Last August, Lionel Guerrero was hauling trash bags out of Alexxa’s, a restaurant known for its creative cocktails and live music inside Paris Las Vegas, when he bumped into a woman wearing a union button. The organizer’s button was out of place at Alexxa’s, which is not unionized, but it might have appeared elsewhere at Paris Las Vegas. The complex, owned and operated by Caesars Entertainment, has been unionized since opening in 1999. But Caesars leased a restaurant space to local restaurateur JRS Hospitality, which opened Alexxa’s in 2018. Guerrero started washing dishes there soon after.

Guerrero, 58, still washes dishes at the restaurant—and earns $16 an hour. Care covered by the health insurance Alexxa’s provides is too expensive to use, he said. He had brightened when he saw the organizer. “A union would be good here,” he told her. “Why don’t we do it?”

Other workers inside Paris Las Vegas were among the 40,000 union members celebrating a five-year contract signed with three casinos in November that included raises of 32% over the period. Today, union members earn an average of $28 an hour, including benefits; by the end of the contract in 2028, wages will average about $37 an hour.

The same divide has emerged at other workplaces along the strip’s 4.2 miles, Pappageorge said. At the unionized Park MGM Las Vegas complex, an outpost of Eataly, the high-end food court originally launched by celebrity chef Mario Batali, opened with nonunion workers in 2018. At Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, a union workplace, the comfort-food-focused Citizens Kitchen & Bar opened without a union in 2013. 


The union’s initial goal is to organize leased-out restaurants at union casinos, such as Alexxa’s, Eataly, and Citizens. If organizers succeed, they’ll move on to the growing number of nonunion restaurants cropping up along the Strip. The strategy is made possible by a provision in the new contracts. Previous agreements barred the union from supporting labor activism among nonunion workers at otherwise organized casinos—in effect putting up a wall between the two groups. November’s agreement knocked that wall down, giving the union’s veritable army of workers the right to organize neighboring workers to join their ranks. 


José de Jesús Zúñiga has worked at Alexxa’s for about three years and has spent his entire restaurant career in nonunion kitchens. At 58, he looks a decade younger, with unlined skin and a clean-shaven face. “I never thought I’d get involved with the union,” he said. But a struggle last year to get paid overtime helped push him to become a leader in the union organizing campaign. “I see the union as a chance to help us solve our problems,” he said. “And economically, it would be big.” Like Guerrero, Zúñiga earns $16 an hour. 

Since he went public in support of the union last summer, Zúñiga said he feels that he has been targeted by management. A week after wearing a union button to work, he said that he was written up for clocking in early—something he had done often before without incident. Then he was demoted from chef’s assistant to dishwasher. “It’s been very hard, exhausting, stressful,” he said with a sigh. That fall, he went to the hospital emergency room only to learn he’d had an anxiety attack.

In response to the union drive, JRS Hospitality hired Labor Information Services, the same consulting firm used by Amazon to combat union organizing. According to Department of Labor records, LIS was hired to hold meetings with workers to “discuss the realities of signing authorization cards.” In September, the union filed two National Labor Relations Board complaints accusing JRS of interrogating, threatening, and disciplining workers who are engaged in union activities—a violation of federal law.

More News

Get Connected