UNLV Project Documents Culinary Union’s Frontier Strike as 25th Anniversary is Celebrated

Culinary Union Frontier Strike

Culinary Union members picket outside the Frontier Hotel and Casino for the first rally of the strike that began on Sept. 21, 1991.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Media Contact:
Bethany KhanBKhan@culinaryunion226.org ▪ (702) 387-7088 & Sean Kennedy ▪ Sean.Kennedy@unlv.edu ▪ (702) 895-2235

UNLV Project Documents Culinary Union’s Frontier Strike as 25th Anniversary is Celebrated

The UNLV University Libraries and the Culinary Union have partnered on a digitization project that documents one of the longest labor strikes in American history.

LAS VEGAS – In honor of the 25th anniversary of one of the longest modern day labor strikes in American history, the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries are continuing work to preserve and document this important historical event.

On September 21, 1991, 550 hospitality workers walked off their jobs at the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada to protest unfair wages and treatment. The strike line was maintained 24/7 and not one striker ever crossed the line during that time. The Culinary Union and four other locals - Bartenders 165, Teamsters 995, Operating Engineers 501, and Carpenters 1780 - organized the strike.

The Frontier Strike ended 6 years, 4 months, and 10 days later on February 1, 1998, when Phil Ruffin bought the resort from Margaret Elardi and promised to restore the original workers to their jobs, honor union contracts, and provide back pay and benefits for the strikers. During the course of the strike, 17 strikers died and 107 children were born.

Today, this history lives on the UNLV University Libraries Special Collections. In 2015, the Culinary Union formed a partnership with the UNLV University Libraries to preserve and provide access to more than 35 boxes containing approximately 40,000 photographs and film negatives.

“Before the Culinary Union donated these photographs, there was very little historical documentation about labor in Las Vegas since the 1960s,” said Michelle Light, director of Special Collections at the UNLV University Libraries. “This collection fills in a major gap in the historical record about organized labor in our region and provides a great deal of evidence about the Frontier Strike and the Union’s other activities. Once accessible online, this photograph collection will be a great resource to the public and for educational research.”

The visual archive documents a variety of activities, including demonstrations from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s and other public events dating back to the 1960s. The majority of the photographs depict the 6.5-year strike against the Frontier Hotel and Casino.

“The Frontier Strike was a major victory for working men and women in Nevada,” said Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union who was a lead organizer during the historic strike. “I will never forget the courageous strikers - who with blood, sweat, and tears - sacrificed and maintained that picket line every day for six years, four months, and ten days.”

Library faculty, assisted by UNLV students, have organized, rehoused, and described the photographs, and are now digitizing the entire collection for public access on the web. 

“The wealth of images that document the Union’s history are really most valuable as a whole,” said Emily Lapworth, digital special collections librarian, who is supervising the team of students digitizing the archive. “We are using new rapid capture equipment to get this collection online much faster and more efficiently than ever before.”

Founded in 1935, the Culinary Union is one of the most recognizable labor organizations in the country.

“I’m so incredibly proud to see 81 years of Culinary Union history preserved and archived,” said Bethany Khan, director of communications and digital strategy for the Culinary Union, who curated and facilitated donation of the collection to UNLV. “It has been exciting to see thousands of photographs of workers fighting for fair wages, job security, and good health benefits throughout the years digitized and available online.”

Two UNLV student employees have already digitized 25 percent of the collection, or more than 9,000 images.

“Prior to working on this project, I had not learned about the Frontier Strike,” said Cindi Mercado-Rosas, one of the students. “Being able to work with these historical photographs has given me a personal insight into dedication it took to fight for workers’ rights.”

The digitization project is funded by private donations. The UNLV University Libraries is raising funds to finish the project and make the images available online. For more information on how to contribute to the project, contact Anne Hodge, director of development for the UNLV University Libraries at anne.hodge@unlv.edu or 702-895-2239.

When the digitization of the Culinary Union’s donation is complete, the collection will be available to the public at: www.Library.UNLV.Edu  

A few of the photographs from the Culinary Union’s archives at UNLV can be found here: www.Facebook.com/Culinary226/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1198732510183094

Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165, Nevada affiliates of UNITE HERE, represent over 57,000 workers in Las Vegas and Reno, including at most of casino resorts on the Las Vegas Strip and in Downtown Las Vegas. UNITE HERE represents 270,000 workers in gaming, hotel, and food service industries in North America.

The Culinary Union is Nevada’s largest immigrant organization with over 57,000 members - a diverse membership that is approximately 55% women and 56% Latino. Members -who work as guest room attendants, bartenders, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks, and kitchen workers- come from 167 countries and speak over 40 different languages. The Culinary Union has been fighting for fair wages, job security, and good health benefits for working men and women in Nevada for over 80 years.

The Culinary Union is encouraging Nevada locals, political candidates, and tourists to avoid staying at/or patronizing hotels under an active labor dispute such as Station Casinos, Palms Casino Resort, and the Trump Hotel Las Vegas. To see the full list properties with an active labor dispute, go to: VegasTravelAlert.org. 

CulinaryUnion226.org / @Culinary226


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