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Culinary Union Celebrates 85 Years of Fighting for Working Families in Nevada; Releases Video Celebrating 2019 Victories

Culinary Union Celebrates 85 Years of Fighting for Working Families in Nevada

The Culinary Union, a UNITE HERE local affiliate, was chartered on November 1, 1935. 2020 marks the 85th anniversary of an 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. 

Culinary Union celebrates 85 years of fighting for working families in Nevada

The Culinary Union has won a middle-class standard of living for over 800,000 hospitality workers in 85 years through rank-and-file organizing and mass actions. Worker membership has risen from 18,000 in 1987 to 60,000 members today.  

“In eight decades, Nevada’s working families have seen many changes: From presidents and politicians, to casino buildings and corporations – our community is always changing, but what hasn’t changed is the real power that workers have built over the past 85 years,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer for the Culinary Union. “Working families are resilient because of the strength and sacrifices made by generations of Culinary Union members. Over our history, hundreds of thousands of workers have demanded to not be left behind and that we must be given seats at the table. The Culinary Union is proud of our 85 year history and we are committed to doing the work everyday to protect our families.”

“In 2020, there is no other organization in Nevada that has done more to support working families during this unprecedented crisis than the Culinary Union,” continued Argüello-Kline “From fighting and winning extended health care benefits and access to health care for workers and their families, working with partners to provide over 150,000 packages of food to furloughed workers, helping thousands of workers sign up for unemployment benefits, securing workers’ right to return to their jobs when business resumes, advocating for an eviction moratorium, passing the first and only-in-the-nation COVID-19 worker safety statewide law, and by defeating the #1 threat to workers and our livelihoods these past four years – Donald Trump.”

The Culinary Union is Nevada’s largest Black/AAPI/immigrant organization with members who are originally from 178 countries and speak over 40 different languages. The Culinary Union has a diverse membership which is 55% women and 45% immigrants. The demographics of Culinary Union members are approximately: 54% Latinx, 18% white, 15% Asian, 12% Black, and less than 1% Indigenous Peoples. Culinary Union members work as: Guest room attendants, cocktail and food servers, porters, bakers, bellmen, cooks, bartenders, laundry and kitchen workers. 

Highlights from the Culinary Union’s 85 Years:

1935: The Culinary Union was chartered on November 1, 1935. 

1954: Elmer “Al” Bramlet is elected secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union in 1954. Under Bramlet’s leadership, Culinary Union membership grew from 1,000 members to 22,000 at the time of his death (1977). Bramlet is credited for diversifying the workforce population in Nevada as he traveled the south and recruited workers for the growing hospitality and gaming industry.

1960s: The Culinary Health Fund,one of the largest healthcare consumers in the state, was founded in the 1960s and currently provides full coverage healthcare benefits (vision and dental included) to over 145,000 participants (60,000 members and their family) in Las Vegas. Culinary Union members do not pay a monthly premium for family healthcare coverage and they have a $0 deductible.

1967: The Culinary Union initiated a strike against 12 Downtown Las Vegas casino hotels. The strike lasted for six days. 

1970: The Culinary and Bartenders Unions had a work stoppage March 12-15, 1970 against 16 casinos on the Las Vegas Strip for four days. Casinos went dark for the first time in Las Vegas history since they had opened. The impact of the strike was felt throughout the hospitality industry: Airlines reported only handfuls of passengers, taxi cabs were idle, and small hotels throughout the city were vacant. Nevada Governor Paul Laxalt brokered a 24-hour negotiation session between the unions and hotel owners. The Nevada Resort Association estimated a $600,000 in daily loss in profits for casino resorts at the time.

1971: The Culinary and Bartenders Unions 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. Approximately 25,000 retires receive a Culinary Union Pension benefit a year. 

1973: A strike against casinos lasted nine days.

1975: The Culinary Union represents 27,000 members.

1976: The Culinary Union joined Musicians Local 369 and Stagehands Local 720 in striking 15 Las Vegas casinos (including Caesars Palace, the Dunes, Circus Circus, and the M.G.M. Grand Hotel) for 16 days, effectively shutting down most of the Strip. 11 casinos (Sands, Desert Inn, Frontier, Castaways, Silver Slipper, Landmark, Thunderbird, Sahara, Flamingo Hilton, Las Vegas Hilton, and Tropicana) closed temporarily during the strike. Workers were fighting for a pay increase of $1.35 an hour, plus fortified health and pension benefits. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimated overall losses at $19.6 million. Culinary Union represented 23,000 members in 1976. 

1984:More than 17,000 Culinary Union members from 32 Las Vegas Strip resorts went on strike alongside IATSE, Bartenders, Musicians Union. Culinary Union members win a contract victory after 53 days on strike, but workers stay out another 2 weeks in solidarity with Musicians and IATSE for a total of 67 days. In one of the largest strikes in Las Vegas history, workers picketed for 67 days, 900 strikers were arrested over the course of the citywide strike. Six casinos (Four Queens, Sam’s Town, California, Holiday International, Holiday Inn South, and Marina Hotel and Casino) did not initially sign union contracts, three resorts become union again over the years. The Holiday International in Downtown Las Vegas closed after the 1984 Strike and eventually reopened as the current unionized Main Street Station. The Marina Hotel and Casino merged with MGM in 1989 as MGM-Marina and was union. Four Queens later becomes union again in 2003.

1987: *Jim Arnold was elected as Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer in 1987 and worked with John WilhelmD. Taylor, and other HERE International Union organizers to rebuild the Culinary Union.

*The Culinary Union, along other Nevada unions, went on strike with 600 workers walking off the job on September 15, 1987 at Nevada Test Site (Nevada National Security Site). The strike lasted for 10-weeks as the Culinary Union fought for stronger contract language to protect workers from being fired unfairly and without cause. The Culinary Union represented over 600 workers who provided food services at the two classified government facilities, the Test Site and Test Range. 3,000 workers from the different unions honored the action and did not cross picket lines.

1989: *While the industry geared up to break the union, the Culinary Union fought and secured card check neutrality agreements which became the standard in the Las Vegas gaming industry. The Mirage became the first in 1989 followed in 1990 by the Excalibur. With card check neutrality agreements, employers agree to remain neutral and respect workers choice on whether to unionize, and Culinary Union membership rises to 60,000 by 2019. 

*A difficult contract fight at the Fitzgeralds Hotel resulted in 6 months of daily picketing outside the property in 1989. The contract was eventually settled and now it stands as the D Hotel & Casino in Downtown Las Vegas. Culinary Union’s, Geoconda Argüello-Kline, worked as a guest room attendant for seven years at the Fitzgerald and got involved as a negotiating committee leader and picket line captain. 

1990: A nine-month strike at the Horseshoe ended in victory for the Culinary Union. Current president, Ted Pappageorge, participated as a negotiating committee leader and picket captain. Hattie Canty became the first Black woman and first guest room attendant 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, Hattie later continued her career as an instructor at the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas. 

1991: The longest and most successful strike in the history of the United States, the Frontier Strike, begins September 21, 1991. Current Secretary-Treasurer, Geoconda Argüello-Kline was a lead organizer in this historic 24-hours-a-day, 7-days a week strike. The strike lasted for 6 years, 4 months, and 10 days.

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 35 properties on the Las Vegas Strip. The Culinary Academy has trained over 55,000 students in high-quality programs which facilitate entry into the hospitality industry and improve workers’ ability to move up in their careers. The Culinary Academy originally opened in a Days Inn motel on Fremont Street in 1993, but is now situated on the Historic Westside neighborhood in Las Vegas. 

*The MGM Grand on the Las Vegas Strip opened as the largest hotel in the world in 1993. Workers fight for five years to organize and win a Culinary Union contract.

1997:

*The Culinary Health Fund was the first health plan in Nevada to recognize and provide benefits to same-sex domestic partners in 1997, 17 years before gay marriage was legal in the state. The Culinary Health Fund also covers medications and counseling services associated with HIV/AIDS, and since January 2018, offers coverage for gender confirmation hormone therapy, surgery, and counseling services for individuals seeking to transition. 

*The Culinary Union represents 40,000 members. 47% Latino, 30% white, 12% Black, and 11% Asian in 1997.

1998: 

*The longest successful strike in the history of the United States, the Frontier Strike, which began September 21, 1991, 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 were able to return back to work. The Culinary Union was able to negotiate that original workers were brought back to their jobs and workers were provided back pay and benefits. During the course of the strike, 17 strikers passed away and 107 children were born.

*Culinary Union members played an instrumental role in Senator Harry Reid’s re-election in 1998. Senator Reid won by 401 votes.

*Maggie Carlton, a former Culinary Union coffee shop waitress and shop steward, is elected to Senate District 2 in 1998. She currently serves as the representative for Assembly District 14.

2000: The 90s end with the Culinary Union experiencing phenomenal membership growth through card check neutrality agreements. In addition to the Mirage and the Excalibur, the Union organized the Treasure Island, Luxor, Monte Carlo, Mandalay Bay, Paris, and Bellagio. The Culinary Union fought for and won organizing rights at the Stratosphere, and won the right to organize the downtown Four Queens through successorship language in new contracts.

2001: 

*The Culinary Union’s Citizenship Project, created in 2001, has helped over 18,000 workers through the entire process (application and preparation for the exam) to become U.S. citizens for free since it was founded. The Immigrant Workers Citizenship Project has a charitable Nevada license plate which includes a depiction of the Aztec Calendar

*Harrah’s Corporation buys the Rio in 2001 and when the workers demand card check neutrality, the company decided to hire union busters and fight. After nearly two years of organizing, workers win a card check neutrality agreement and a Culinary Union contract. 

*The Culinary Pharmacy, founded in 2001, was the first free-standing pharmacy in the country. With approximately 500,000 prescriptions dispensed each year, the Culinary “Free” Pharmacy is one of the busiest pharmacies in Nevada. All generic drugs at the Culinary Pharmacy are completely free to Culinary Union members and their immediate family members who are eligible participants.

*After 9/11 attacks, nearly 15,000 Las Vegas workers are laid off in 2001, and the Culinary Union creates Helping Hand, a massive relief project to provide support to laid-off workers. 

2002: 

*D. Taylor, currently President of UNITE HERE International Union, is elected Secretary-Treasurer of Culinary Union and Geoconda Argüello-Kline is elected President of the Culinary Union in 2002 
*Over 25,000 union members voted on May 16, 2002, to approve a strike with major employers on the Strip and Downtown. Shortly after, contracts were settled and included new language to protect Culinary Union health insurance and ensure that over 11,000 housekeepers had safer workloads and better working conditions. A 10-day strike at the Golden Gate was successful when workers fought and won a strong contract.

*Peggy Pierce, a former Culinary Union banquet food server, is elected to Assembly District 3 in 2002.

2004: The Culinary Union won card check neutrality for the Aladdin/Planet Hollywood after workers fight for their rights in a tough battle with the company for nearly four years before securing a union contract.

2005: The Culinary Union successfully negotiates card check neutrality for Wynn Casino. With the addition of Encore, the property becomes the largest Culinary Union bargaining unit in Las Vegas with over 5,500 members.

2007: 

*MGM/Mirage Resorts workers vote in 2007 to authorize a strike over the right to organize the massive new development, City Center. The Culinary Union wins a great contract including card check neutrality for the development, and creates the Tip Earner Defense Fund, and the Culinary and Bartenders Housing Fund.

*The Tip Earner 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 throughout the year to inform workers on how to properly keep tip records.

*Over 1,700 Culinary Union members have bought their first homes with help from the Culinary and Bartenders Housing Fund, established in 2007, which has provided over $12.5 million in down payment assistance and closing costs. 

2008: UNITE HERE, the international hospitality workers union, of which the Culinary Union is the largest affiliate, became the first labor union in the country to endorse then Senator Barack Obama, and Culinary Union members delivered Nevada for President Obama on Election Day.

2008-2009: The Culinary Union implements Helping Hand, a massive relief effort to provide support for thousands of laid-off workers during the The Great Recession.

2012: 

*Geoconda Argüello-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 Executive Vice President of UNITE HERE and is a board member of the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, the Citizenship Project, the Culinary Health Fund, and the Culinary and Bartenders’ Pension Fund. Ted Pappageorge, a former bartender at the Horseshoe, is elected President.

*110 union workers took a leave-of-absence from their jobs to work with the 2012 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. Steven Horsford, former CEO of the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, is elected as the representative for Congressional District 4. 

2013: Citywide negotiations for 50,000 workers extend for almost 2 years and 10,000 (primarily downtown Las Vegas) workers vote to authorize a strike before the final contracts are settled. 

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: 

*After a four-year organizing campaign, the Culinary Union negotiates and wins a first contract with the Cosmopolitan in 2015. 

*The Culinary Union donated a historical photo collection of an estimated 32,000 images, film negatives, and slides to the UNLV University Libraries in 2015. This extensive collection has been curated, digitized, and preserved. A wide selection of images from the collection are available online for community members, students, and researchers around the world.

2016: 

*January: Yvanna Cancela, former Culinary Union political director, is appointed to Senate District 10. 

*October-November: 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.

*December: Trump workers fight for and win a great first Culinary Union contract at Trump Hotel Las Vegas.

2017: 

*Culinary Health Fund unveiled an innovative, high-quality, multi-service Culinary Health Center designed to provide increased access to primary, preventative, pediatric, urgent, dental, and vision care to tens of thousands of eligible Las Vegas Culinary Health Fund members. Second location of a Culinary “Free” Pharmacy opens at the Health Center. Culinary “Free” Pharmacy #2, which dispenses generic drugs for free, is the busiest pharmacy in Nevada 

*The Culinary Union fought for and won first-in-the-nation legislation – Senate Bill 539 (SB539) which was signed into law June 15, 2017. The bill includes groundbreaking provisions championed by State Senator Yvanna Cancela such as requiring manufacturers of insulin to report costs of producing and marketing diabetes drugs, and requiring pharmaceutical sales representatives to report interactions with doctors – who they visited and what gifts they gave annually. 

*After a decade of fighting for card check neutrality at Stations Casinos and despite a tremendous anti-union campaign by the company, workers win the right for union representation through National Labor Board Elections at Boulder, Palace, Green Valley Ranch, and Palms.

2018: 2018 CONTRACT FIGHT: A citywide strike vote was held May 22, 2018 at the Thomas and Mack Arena, with 25,000 workers voting YES to authorize a strike if casino companies didn’t settle. 

*The Culinary Union won the strongest and most comprehensive immigration, sexual harassment, automation & technology protections, and safety language in the history of any union in the United States in an aggressive year of contract negotiations for 50,000 workers. 

*The new 5-year contract protects immigrants who have Temporary Protected Status and DACA, equipped thousands of workers in the city with Wi-Fi-enabled safety buttons, has the strongest economic package ever negotiated with the highest wage increases and healthcare and pension benefits for workers. 

*The Culinary Union and Bartenders Unions Legal Service Fund is established in 2018. The program enables a team of attorneys and advocates at Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to provide a range of legal services to hotel, casino, and other eligible employees to help safeguard the economic and legal wellbeing of those employees and their families. The Legal Service Fund can provide FREE legal assistance in the following areas: Immigration matters, simple estate planning, tenant’s rights and evictions, debt collection and related legal issues, chapter 7 bankruptcy consultations, criminal record sealing, family law forms, and more.

2018 MIDTERM ELECTIONS: The UNITE HERE Culinary Union’s organizing program is the largest political effort in Nevada and was comprised of 350 workers who have taken a union contracted leave-of-absence from their hospitality jobs to talk to their coworkers everyday by phone, in employee dining rooms on the Las Vegas Strip and in Downtown Las Vegas, and on the doors in neighborhoods in Washoe and Las Vegas – a field program unmatched by any other in the country. By the end of Election Day, the Culinary Union’s political field team knocked on over 370,000 doors in Las Vegas and Reno and had quality one-on-on conversations with approximately 80,000 voters across Nevada statewide.

2019: *Bea Duran, a former Culinary Union food server, was appointed to Assembly District 11.

*The Culinary Union won union contracts at: Circus Circus Reno, Reno Airport, Waldorf Astoria, Hard Rock Las Vegas, Amex Lounge at McCarran Airport, Vdara, Cosmopolitan, and Hilton Grand Vacations.
*Workers at Sunset Station, Fiesta Rancho, and Fiesta Henderson voted to unionize in a National Labor Relation Bard secret-ballot election. Workers at eight Station Casinos’ Las Vegas properties are fighting for a union contract: Boulder Station (September 2016), Palace Station (March 2017), Green Valley Ranch (November 2017), Palms (April 2018), Sunset Station (June 2019), Fiesta Rancho (June 2019), Fiesta Henderson (September 2019), Red Rock Resort (December 2019). 

*The Culinary Union was proud to host the UNITE HERE Convention in Las Vegas. Over a thousand UNITE HERE members, who were in Las Vegas for the convention, joined Culinary Union members and Palms workers to picket as Palms workers fight for a union contract.

*2019 NEVADA LEGISLATIVE SESSION 13 bills that the Culinary Union supported and fought to win over the course of the 2019 Nevada Legislature were delivered to Governor Steve Sisolak and signed into law. Legislation that the Culinary Union advocated to implement range from ending surprise bills, expanding healthcare transparency, increasing patient protections, strengthening worker rights, criminal justice reform, and supporting immigrants in Nevada.

HEALTHCARE:

*AB469 – “Ending Surprise Bills” protected patients in Nevada by taking them out of the middle between providers and payers. The Culinary Union is proud to have fought for over 15 years to end surprise bills and we thank Governor Sisolak, Speaker Jason Frierson, Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, and Culinary Health Fund’s Bobbette Bond for championing this bill and fighting for nearly two decades to protect Nevadans.

*SB262 – “Asthma Transparency” prevented price gouging for asthma medications. The Culinary Union applauds Senator Yvanna Cancela for championing SB262 and is proud to have fought alongside her since the 2017 Legislative session to increase transparency protections to Nevadans who have diabetes or asthma.

*SB276 – “Prescription Drug Structure Study” created a study of drug pricing to identify how to reduce the price of prescriptions. The Culinary Union supported Senator Cancela’s plan to use this study to look at how other states have been able to reduce Medicaid drug costs.

*SB378 – “Stop Big Pharma Price Gouging” provided transparency on high-cost brand, bio-similar, and generic drugs and make them affordable at fair rates. This bill is first in the nation legislation. It’s an incredible bill and the Culinary Union fought to make it the strongest possible.

*SB544 – “Patient Protection Commission” – In the 2019 Nevada Legislative session, the Culinary Union fought for and won legislation to establish the Patient Protection Commission, a group of health care industry experts and patient advocates – including Bobbette Bond from the Culinary Health Fund – appointed by the Governor. The Patient Protection Commission is a victory for working families as its goals are to protect patients from getting ripped off as the price of healthcare rises every day.

*AB232 – “Protecting Nevadans and visitors from non-Medicaid/Medicare contracted Emergency Rooms.” AB232 required all hospitals* to accept Medicare payments. This important legislation will protect Nevada hospitals and patients. It will also ensure patients have access to medical care when they need it. *Other than psychiatric, critical access, and rural hospitals.

*AB317 – “Smart Healthcare Growth” ensured Nevadans get the care they need when they need it, while protecting patients from expensive care the community doesn’t need.

WORKER RIGHTS:

*SB135 – “Collective bargaining for AFSCME state employees.” State workers were fighting for collective bargaining for Nevada communities including improved safety at correctional facilities, better nurse-to-patient ratios at state hospitals and improved state services. The Culinary Union was proud to stand with AFSCME Local 4041 members to win collective bargaining.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM:

*AB356 – allowed the wrongfully convicted to present new evidence of innocence when it is discovered, beyond the two-year time limit. The Culinary Union advocated for AB356 and AB267 as part of the “Nevada Coalition for the Wrongfully Convicted,” a group of civil rights, legal, and faith-based organizations. 

*AB267 – provided exonerees with services and financial payments for each year of wrongful imprisonment. The Culinary Union thanks sponsors Assemblyman Steve Yeager (AB267) and Assemblyman William McCurdy (AB356) for fighting to fix flaws in Nevada’s justice system and making things right for the wrongfully convicted.

OTHER IMPORTANT BILLS:

*AB50 – Moved Municipal elections to even numbered years.

*SB151 – Increased renter’s rights by: 1) ending abusive practices of unlimited late fees on rent, 2) mandated that renters are actually served eviction notices, and 3) ensured dignity and fairness for tenants. 

*SB538 – Office for New Americans. The Culinary Union fully supported the creation of the Office of New Americans, which help immigrant communities find the support and assistance needed to keep thriving in Nevada.

2020:

*The Culinary Union’s Grievance Department has worked on over 25,000 cases and won $15 million in wages and back pay for workers who have been fired or suspended unfairly since 2014.
*During the COVID-19 crisis, the Culinary Union fought to have health care benefits and access to health care for workers and their families extended (even for those workers still in lay-off), worked with partners to provide over 150,000 packages of food to furloughed workers, helped thousands of workers sign up for unemployment benefits, secured workers’ right to return to their jobs when business resumes, advocated for an eviction moratorium, and passed the first and only-in-the-nation COVID-19 worker safety statewide law during a special session of the Nevada Legislature. 

*The Culinary Union, the strongest political force in the state, ran the largest political program in its history and delivered Nevada for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. 500 UNITE HERE and Culinary Union hospitality workers knocked on 500,000 doors in Las Vegas and Reno and talked to 130,000 voters (in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, and Amharic). Canvassers spoke to over 42,400 eligible voters who did not vote for 2016, and knocked on the doors of half of the Black and Latinx voters in Nevada.