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Las Vegas casino workers get ready to strike

Members of a culinary workers union have been working without a contract for nearly a year at nine downtown casinos.
Las Vegas Strip casinos are seen from the 550 foot-tall (167.6 m) High Roller observation wheel, the tallest in the world, in Las Vegas
Las Vegas Strip casinos are seen from the 550 foot-tall (167.6 m) High Roller observation wheel, the tallest in the world, in Las Vegas, Nevada April 9, 2014.

Just in time for the June tourism rush, nine casinos in downtown Las Vegas are now facing the prospect of a major culinary workers strike.

About 3,000 members of the union UNITE HERE Local 226 are getting ready to begin a work stoppage against the casinos, the union announced on Monday.

Local 226 director of digital strategy Bethany Khan told msnbc that the union has not yet set a specific date for the strike. The union fired its warning shot as part of an ongoing dispute over collective bargaining contracts, which expired on June 1, 2013. Local 226 has successfully negotiated new contracts with other casinos in Las Vegas, particularly those located along the strip, but nine out of the 10 downtown casinos have not yet agreed to a new contract. Local 226 workers have been operating off of temporary contract extensions until a deal could be reached, but things came to a head in late March when the union decided that was no longer acceptable by an overwhelming vote.

"Your most important contract, which is your livelihood and you're going to provide for your family, that was ambiguous," said Khan. "And so workers voted to end contract extension and authorized union leaders to call for a strike any time." More than 99% of the union's workers approved the measure.

In labor circles, Local 226 is known for being an especially robust union, especially given the fact that it resides in a right-to-work state where automatically deducting membership dues from workers' paychecks is forbidden by law. Although building and maintaining power in right-to-work states is a significant problem for much of organized labor, Local 226 has successfully held onto influence in much of Las Vegas' gambling industry. The union famously held a walkout for six-and-a-half years once, starting in 1991. How long the impending strike could last remains to be seen.

While the union is saying that it needed to resort to threats of a strike in order to end the ambiguity regarding its contractual status, one casino is telling a different story.

According to Carron Albert, the director of human resources at Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel, Local 226 mysteriously broke off negotiations in March. That was when Binion's allegedly presented a list of proposals for the new contract, which received no response.

"We've met a total of three times, and I've never been in a negotiation where after three meetings the union is ready to strike rather than sit down at the negotiation table," said Albert. MSNBC reached out to several of the hotels facing a strike, but Binion's was the only one to respond by press time.

Khan told msnbc that Local 226 is "always available to meet with companies."

A strike is the last resort," she said in an email. "If we don’t have a settlement yet it’s because the company hasn’t agreed to our proposals or brought anything for us to look at."