The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 Las Vegas, Nevada Photographs document various activities of the Culinary Union, from the 1950s to 2006, with the bulk of the material documenting the 1990s. Prominently featured in the collection are various strikes, pickets, marches, parades, rallies, and demonstrations from the late 1980s to early 2000s. A large portion of these photographs documents the Frontier Strike of the 1990s. Also included are photographs of press conferences, political rallies, internal committee meetings, Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (H.E.R.E.) conventions, and various social events. Materials contain photographic prints, photographic negatives, and a small number of slides.
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Scope and Contents Note
The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 Las Vegas, Nevada Photographs document various activities of the Culinary Union, from the 1950s to 2006, with the bulk of the material documenting the 1990s. Prominently featured in the collection are various strikes, pickets, marches, parades, rallies, and demonstrations from the late 1980s to early 2000s. A large portion of these photographs documents the Frontier Strike of the 1990s. Also included are photographs of press conferences, political rallies, internal committee meetings, Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (H.E.R.E.) conventions, and various social events. Materials contain photographic prints, photographic negatives, and a small number of slides and glass slides.
The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 retains copyrights to materials in this collection. Materials may be used for nonprofit purposes, including educational, teaching, scholarship, research, or other academic use. All for-profit use of copyrighted materials must receive permission in advance from the Culinary Workers Union Local 226. See Reproductions and Use on the UNLV Special Collections website for more information about reproductions and permissions to publish.
This collection is organized into five series:
Series I. Demonstrations, 1987-2004;
Series II. Public events, 1960s-2004;
Series III. Internal: Work activities, 1970s-2006;
Series IV. Internal: Social events, 1989-2005
Series V. Glass slides, 1950s-1960s
Biographical / Historical Note
The Culinary Workers Union Local 226, the largest local union of UNITE HERE (the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees and Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees), is located in Las Vegas, Nevada and represents over 55,000 hotel, food service, and hospitality workers in Southern Nevada. The Culinary Union, in Las Vegas, was founded in 1938 soon after the passage of the federal National Labor Relations Act. In 1954, union members elected Al Bramlet as Secretary-Treasurer in Las Vegas, and under his leadership the union grew from 1,000 members to 16,000 members by the time of his death in 1977. Bramlet actively recruited African American workers from Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas, diversifying both the Culinary Union and the work force of Nevada’s hospitality industry. The Culinary Union and the casinos of Las Vegas had a symbiotic relationship under Bramlet’s leadership.
In 1967 and 1969, Nevada legislature passed two corporate gaming acts that allowed public corporations to own and operate casinos. These laws changed not only the gaming industry but the labor union strategies and relationships between workers and casino management.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Culinary Union adapted to the new corporate ownership of Las Vegas casinos. The Culinary Union exercised their right to strike in 1976, joining the Bartenders and Musicians Unions in a seventeen-day strike against fifteen hotels that refused to sign new union contracts. This economically devastating and violent strike ended in compromise with new contracts for Culinary Union workers. The conflicted relationship between the Culinary Union and casinos resulted in another strike in 1984. The Culinary Union walked out against multiple Nevada Resort Association (NRA) properties in a strike that lasted two months. Police arrested over 900 strikers over the course of the strike and six hotels refused to sign contracts.
After the unsuccessful 1984 strike the Culinary Union reorganized and elected new leadership. The union organization shifted from top-down to rank-and-file leadership, greatly democratizing the union of nearly 18,000 workers. Union members elected Jim Arnold as Secretary-Treasurer in 1987. Arnold, along with union President Hattie Canty, successfully negotiated numerous bargaining agreements with Las Vegas Strip and Downtown hotels and casinos in the late 1980s and 1990s. In 1991, Culinary Union members began a strike on the Frontier Hotel after the owners removed significant benefits from worker contracts. The Frontier Strike became one of the longest lasting strikes in United States history, ending in 1998 after the Elardi family sold the Frontier Hotel to Phil Ruffin, who quickly signed a union contract.
In recent years, the Culinary Union focused on building relationships and contracts that mutually benefitted both worker and corporation. The Culinary Union also established a Culinary Training Center, the Citizenship Project, and the Housing Trust Fund. These projects help workers learn new skills, gain U.S. citizenship, and purchase homes. The Culinary Union’s endorsement of political candidates is also significant. In 2008, Las Vegas hosted the 2008 Democratic Caucus, where the Culinary Union, on behalf of UNITE HERE, became the first major union to endorse eventual President Barack Obama. As of 2014, union membership reached 55,000 members.
Kraft, James P. Vegas at Odds: Labor Conflict in a Leisure Economy, 1960-1985. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.
- Culinary Workers Union Local 226 is founded.
- Culinary Union members elect Al Bramlet as the Secretary-Treasurer.
- Nevada Civil Rights Act is passed.
- Nevada Resort Association (NRA) is established.
- 1967, 1969
- Nevada Corporate Gaming Acts are passed.
- NRA, multiple hotels, and the Culinary Union voluntarily agree to sign a consent decree that orders all resort industry employers to hire African Americans for 12% of all hotel casino jobs.
- 1976, March
- Culinary Union joins the Musicians, Stagehands, and Bartenders unions in a strike against fifteen hotels. After seventeen days, an agreement is reached which ends the economically devastating 1976 strike.
- Casino owners refuse the Culinary Union’s request for a new health insurance plan and nearly 18,000 workers walk out of hotels and casinos across the city. Police arrest over 900 strikers over the course of the strike. The 1984 strike lasts two months, and ends with six casinos refusing to sign union contracts.
- Culinary Union members elect Jim Arnold as the Secretary-Treasurer.
- Steve Wynn’s Mirage opens with a union contract. The mega-casino needs thousands of workers and the union adapts to the change by expanding membership recruitment internationally.
- • Culinary Union members elect Hattie Canty as the first female African-American President of the Culinary Union. She is instrumental in negotiating for the Culinary Training Center.
- • Culinary and Bartenders unions successfully strike against Binion’s Horseshoe Casino.
- Culinary Union members walk out of the Frontier Hotel and start a strike after the owners remove significant benefits from worker contracts. The Culinary Union suspects the anti-union Elardi family of intimidation, unfair firings, and decreased wages. Bill Bennett, owner of Circus Circus and the Sahara Hotel, publicly supports the union by providing food for the strikers.
- The Culinary Union establishes the Culinary Training Center, later renamed the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, with funds from collective bargaining agreements between several casinos and the Culinary and Bartenders unions.
- Las Vegas Metro police officers arrest over 500 members for demonstrating on MGM Grand’s privatized sidewalks.
- The Frontier Strike ends after six years. The Elardis did not compromise with the Culinary Union and when Phil Ruffin purchases the hotel, he signs a union contract agreeing to rehire all protesting workers.
- The Culinary Union, along with other organizations, establishes the Citizenship Project to help union members study and prepare for the U.S. Citizenship exam.
- Steve Wynn opens the Wynn Las Vegas resort and agrees to an unprecedented ten year contract with the Culinary Union.
- A number of casino properties agree to sign a collective bargaining agreement that establishes the Housing Trust Fund.
- The Culinary Union, on behalf of UNITE HERE, is the first major labor union to endorse eventual President Barack Obama during the 2008 Nevada Democratic Caucus.
- The Culinary Union executive board appoints Geoconda Arguello-Kline as the first Latina Secretary-Treasurer to complete D. Taylor’s term.
- Union membership reaches 55,000.
Culinary Workers Union Local 226 Las Vegas, Nevada Photographs, 1950s-2006. PH-00382. Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
Materials were donated in 2014 and 2016 by Geoconda Arguello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer of Culinary Workers Union, Local 226; accession numbers 2014-079, 2015-026, and 2016-051. Bethany Khan, Director of Communications and Digital Strategy for the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, provided oversight for the collaboration and the transfer and review of images.
Materials were arranged and rehoused by Hannah Robinson, Dallas Reiber, and Kayla McDuffie in 2015. Hannah Robinson and Kayla McDuffie wrote the collection description and organizational history. Most descriptions of the files were transcribed from photo envelopes provided by the Culinary Union. Additional material was added in 2016 by Joyce Moore.