700 hotel union workers launch 48-hour strike at Virgin Hotels casino near Las Vegas Strip

LAS VEGAS (AP) — About 700 workers walked off the job at a hotel-casino near the Las Vegas Strip at dawn Friday, in what union organizers said would be a 48-hour strike after spending months trying to reach a deal for new five-year contract with Virgin Hotels.

The Culinary Union, the largest labor union in Nevada, said the action marked its first strike in 22 years. The union authorized a citywide strike late last year, but it reached agreements with all the major hotel-casinos on the Strip for about 40,000 workers before the end of the year, and with most downtown and off-Strip properties in early February for 10,000 workers.

Guest room attendants, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks, bartenders, laundry and kitchen workers were among those walking a picket line in front of Virgin Hotels, formerly the Hard Rock Las Vegas, just west of the Strip, union organizers said.

Virgin Hotels filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday ahead of the anticipated strike, accusing the union of failing to negotiate in good faith “despite our sincere efforts to meet and negotiate.” It said union officials were engaged in “unlawful ‘take it or leave it’ bargaining.”

“Because the Union has not told us what agreements it believes are necessary to avoid a strike, we have asked the Union to join us in mediation as soon as possible,” Virgin Hotels said. “The goal of mediation is to reach an agreement without disrupting our guests and our team members’ lives with a work stoppage.”

While the weekend strike is far smaller in scale than the union's planned strikes last year on the Strip, the hotel-casino is still a notable Sin City landmark because of its proximity to the Strip and the airport, and because an 80-foot-tall (24-meter-tall) neon guitar sign stood on the plot for decades before it was removed for the property's transformation into Virgin Hotels.

The last time Culinary Union members went on strike was in 2002 at Golden Gate hotel-casino in downtown Las Vegas.

Earlier this year, union members at other Las Vegas-area properties reached deals giving them a roughly 32% salary increase over five years, including 10% in the first year.

Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union, said they had called off a strike deadline at Virgin Hotels in February when the looming Super Bowl helped put pressure on other hotel-casinos to come to the bargaining table in order to give management more time to address its financial situation and reach a settlement at the 1,500-room hotel-casino.

But he said they had waited long enough and were hopeful the 48-hour strike would help expedite a new agreement on wage and benefit increases.

“It’s been nearly one year since the contract at Virgin Las Vegas expired on June 1, 2023 and workers are still working without a contract," he said in a statement.

Pappageorge told reporters at a news conference on Thursday that the complaint to the NLRB had no merit.

“The charge is just a company stunt, and it’s unfortunate and sad that they’ve waited until the eve of the strike to even have that kind of discussion,” Pappageorge said.