The thought of culinary workers going on strike in Las Vegas, the biggest meetings destination in the U.S., is enough to send chills down the spine of meeting planners and suppliers alike since contracts with Culinary Workers Local 226 expired May 31, 2018. On May 22 the union voted to strike, if necessary.

Geoconda Arguello Kline, who serves as secretary-treasurer for Culinary Workers Union, Local 226 and executive president of UNITE HERE International Union, is leading the labor side of the negotiations, which were still ongoing as of June 26, 2018.

“A strike is not something we want, but when you go to strike that is the only way to protect your families,” Arguello Kline said. “We never use that sword if it’s not the last recourse.

“We are open for negotiations but we’re going to have a deadline to figure out this contract,” she added. “We have until July 16 to make it happen.”

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Although Strip heavyweights MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment have settled with the union, representing some 70 percent of union workers, six Strip properties (Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas; SLS Las Vegas, including W Las Vegas; Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower; Treasure Island; Tropicana Las Vegas; and Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino) are still in negotiations with Culinary Workers Local 226.

[Cost of a Strike: One-Month Vegas Strike Could Cost Caesars, MGM $300M]

Additionally, 10 downtown properties (Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel; Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino; El Cortez Hotel and Casino; Four Queens Hotel and Casino; Fremont Hotel & Casino; Golden Gate Casino Hotel; Golden Nugget Las Vegas Hotel & Casino; Main Street Station Casino Brewery Hotel; The D Las Vegas; and Plaza Hotel & Casino) were also still in negotiations with the Culinary Union at the time of this article's publication, with a deadline of July 16, 2018, looming for when the union wants to wrap negotiations with all properties.

Geoconda Arguello Kline Outside Gold Coast Hotel & Casino

Geoconda Arguello Kline Outside Gold Coast Hotel & Casino​

Arguello Kline said the union is seeking a five-year contract—the settlement with MGM and Caesars was the largest economic package in the history of the union, she said—that will guarantee workers’ health care, pensions, consistent wage increases and job protection. She added that protections against sexual harassment are also figuring into the negotiations, as are proposals to maintain the safety of workers through mandatory room checks carried out by hotel security staff and not housekeeping staff, as some properties have suggested.

“Part of our proposal is to always be safe,” she said. “If the room is not being checked we want security from the casino to check after 24 hours.”

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A native of Managua, Nicaragua, Arguello Kline came to the U.S. in 1979, moving from Florida to Las Vegas in 1983. She started her hospitality career as a guest room attendant at Downtown’s Sundance Hotel, which became Fitzgeralds Hotel and Casino and is now The D Las Vegas Casino Hotel.

From rank and file beginnings, Arguello Kline was tapped by union leadership in 1990 to work as an organizer and she’s been with the union for 28 years since.

Arguello Kline remains optimistic that the boom times for Las Vegas hotels will result in an equitable contract for the union, although the stakes couldn’t be higher for her union members.

“We’re expecting to move this negotiation forward because the economy is in good shape and we work with the properties all the time.” she said. “You want to feel secure and that you can provide to your kids a safe future; you don’t have to worry if you get sick and don’t have healthcare, or they can fire you without representation, or the property sells and you’re on the street. When you don’t have a union you live in the hands of the company.”

[From the Meetings Today Blog: Why Unions, Planners and Suppliers Need to Get Along]