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How Formula 1 accidentally helped Las Vegas workers land the 'best contract ever'

Casino giants cut a deal with the hospitality workers’ union just before the much-hyped Las Vegas Grand Prix. Union organizers, celebrating their wins, say that’s no coincidence.
Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen (1) of the Netherlands drives by the Sphere during the F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix
Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands drives by the Sphere during the F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix on Saturday.Antonin Vincent / DPPI / Panoramic via Reuters

When Formula 1 came to Las Vegas, it brought a level of glitz and glamor rivaled only by Monaco. It also seems to have inadvertently empowered tens of thousands of hospitality workers to secure better wages and benefits from the city’s famous casinos.

Five days before the F1 opening ceremony on the Strip last Wednesday, the Culinary and Bartenders Union finished inking five-year contracts with MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts, which control 18 casinos in the heart of Sin City.

The pacts ended a monthslong standoff and defused the threat of a mass worker strike timed to clash with race weekend, thus avoiding a nightmare scenario for casinos and hotels as thousands of tourists and high rollers from around the world were arriving. Now, as they aim to ratify the last of the deals Wednesday, union leaders are hailing it as “the best contract ever” for 40,000 workers, touting the largest-ever wage hikes, new limits on workloads, recall rights and even labor protections from AI technology.

Ted Pappageorge, the Culinary Union secretary-treasurer and chief negotiator for contracts, said the addition of a Formula 1 race this year gave workers “leverage” in the negotiations.

“That might have had some impact,” he said — alongside the unity of his workers in striking if their demands weren’t met.

“Las Vegas is now the sporting capital of the world, combined with the entertainment capital of the world. We support Formula 1 100%,” Pappageorge said. “We think all the largest events in the world belong in Las Vegas. But none of that matters if the company is not completely convinced that you’re ready to strike. And when we were able to show that credible threat of a real strike, it worked.”

Before the deal, union leaders crafted a strike pay plan and picket lines across the Strip. They encouraged Formula 1 ticket holders to support workers by avoiding casinos or hotels mired in the labor standoff. They threatened the “largest hospitality worker strike in U.S. history,” which risked crippling operations and leaving a bitter taste for the growing American fan base that traveled to watch the world's fastest cars dash down the Strip at over 200 mph — and throw down at their slot machines, bars and hotels.

The F1 Grand Prix of Las Vegas at Las Vegas Strip Circuit
The F1 Grand Prix of Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Strip Circuit on Saturday.Antonin Vincent / DPPI / Panoramic via Reuters

A union organizer familiar with the talks said the F1 race gave it “a lot of leverage” to extract concessions.

Casinos and hotels simply “couldn’t staff their properties” if 40,000 workers went on strike, said the organizer, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. They noted that future events around Las Vegas also played a role, including next week’s AWS cloud technology conference and the National Finals Rodeo in December, as well as more in early 2024, from the Consumer Electronics Show to the Super Bowl.

MGM Resorts International President and CEO Bill Hornbuckle called the tentative contract an “agreement that works for all parties,” saying in a statement that his team is “pleased to have reached a tentative agreement that averts a strike.”

Union members celebrated, too.

“When workers in a major gaming market and a destination resort have stability, we will be able to provide for our families and continue to show the world what makes Las Vegas so special,” said James Tanner, a bartender at Paris Casino, which is owned by Caesars Entertainment.

The Culinary Union also used the occasion to strike its own deal with Las Vegas Grand Prix and Liberty Media, which owns F1, that protects the right of workers in the sprawling new pit building to unionize and collectively negotiate a contract. That could come in handy, as the sport has struck a 10-year deal to keep racing in Vegas.

Although a strike was averted, the F1 race weekend got off to a bad start when a loose drain cover smashed the floor of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari, curtailing the first practice session mere minutes into it and barring fans from the grandstands for the next session.

But after that was fixed, the weekend went smoothly. The subsequent practice session and qualifying and the main race under the bright lights all delivered plenty of action for fans, with the Grand Prix providing some of the most thrilling wheel-to-wheel battles of the entire Formula 1 season. The sport’s big bet on Las Vegas paid off as the race got rave reviews from F1 insiders.

The labor agreement was important enough to draw praise from President Joe Biden, who voiced solidarity with the union and said the deal “will help give all workers the quality of life they deserve.”

“As a candidate for President, I had the honor of joining Culinary Union members on the picket line and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with men and women who form the backbone of a city that brings joy to millions around the world,” Biden, who will need to win swing states like Nevada to secure re-election in 2024, said in a statement. “These workers understand better than just about anybody that a job is about more than just a paycheck. It’s about dignity. It’s about respect.”