Las Vegas, NV – 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.

The Culinary Union has won a middle-class standard of living for over 770,000 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.

“Working families can succeed because of the strength and sacrifices made by generations of Nevadans,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer for the Culinary Union. “When the workers who make Las Vegas run have good jobs with fair wages, job security, and good health benefits, our entire community benefits.”

The Culinary Union is Nevada’s largest Black/AAPI/immigrant organization with members who come from 178 countries and speak over 40 different languages. The Culinary Union has a diverse membership -- approximately 55% women, 54% Latinx, 19% White, 15% Asian, 10% Black, and less than 1% Indigenous Peoples — and consists of guest room attendants, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks, bartenders, laundry and kitchen workers.

Highlights from the Culinary Union’s 85 Years:

1935: The Culinary Union is chartered 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 & gaming industry.

1960s: The Culinary Health Fund, one of the largest healthcare consumers in the state, was founded in the 1960s and provides full coverage healthcare benefits to over 130,000 participants in Las Vegas. Culinary Union members don’t pay a monthly premium for family healthcare coverage.

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

1970: A strike against hotels on the Las Vegas Strip lasted four days.

1971: The Culinary & Bartenders 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 Pension benefit a year.

1973: A strike against casinos lasted nine days. 

1976: The Culinary Union joined Musicians Local 369 and Stagehands Local 720 in striking 15 Las Vegas Strip resorts for 16 days, effectively shutting down most of the Strip. 12 casinos closed down during the strike. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimated overall losses at $131.6 million.  

1977: March 11, 1977 at 8pm, thousands of Culinary Union members walked off their jobs and went on strike for 14 days against Las Vegas Strip properties. The Tropicana had to close its doors during the duration of the strike.

1984: More than 17,000 Culinary Union members from 32 Las Vegas Strip resorts went on strike. In one of the largest strikes in Las Vegas history, workers picketed for nine months, 900 strikers were arrested over the course of the citywide strike, and six casinos did not sign union contracts.

1987: John Wilhelm, D. Taylor, and other HERE International Union organizers were sent to Las Vegas to assist local leaders to rebuild the Culinary Union.                                         

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.

1989: A difficult contract fight at the Fitzgeralds Hotel resulted in 6 months of daily picketing outside the property. 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 African-American woman 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 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 24/7 strike.

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 29 properties on the Las Vegas Strip. The Culinary Academy has trained over 42,000 workers in high-quality programs which facilitate entry into the hospitality industry and improve workers’ ability to move up in their careers.

1993: The MGM Grand on the Las Vegas Strip opened as the largest hotel in the world. 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, 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.

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 returned to work. 

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

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

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 

2001: Harrah’s Corporation buys the Rio 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.

2001: The Culinary Pharmacy, founded in 2001, is one of the busiest pharmacies in Nevada with approximately 500,000 prescriptions dispensed each year. All drugs at the Culinary Pharmacy are completely free to Culinary Union members and their immediate family members who are eligible participants.

2001: After 9/11 attacks, nearly 15,000 Las Vegas workers are laid off, 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. 

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.

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

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. With the addition of Encore, the property becomes the largest Culinary Union bargaining unit in Las Vegas with over 5,500 members.

2007: Mirage Resorts workers vote 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.

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 won Nevada for Obama on Election Day.

2008-2009: The Culinary Union implements Helping Hand 2, a massive relief effort to provide support for thousands of laid-off workers, victims of 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.

2012: 110 union workers took a leave-of-absence from their jobs to work with the 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:

2015: After a four-year organizing campaign, the Culinary Union negotiates the first contract with the Cosmopolitan.

2015: The Culinary Union donated a historical photo collection of an estimated 32,000 images, film negatives, and slides to the UNLV University Libraries. 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: Yvanna Cancela, former Culinary Union political director, is appointed to Senate District 10.

2016: Trump workers fight for and win a great Culinary Union contract at Trump Las Vegas.

2016: 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.

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.

2017: 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. 

2017-2018: 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: 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. 

2018: 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.


** NEW VIDEO celebrating 2018 victories: We Fight. We Win!

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

2019: The Culinary Union’s Grievance Department has worked on over 23,000 cases and won $10 million in wages and back pay for workers who have been fired or suspended unfairly since 2014.

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