Service Workers in Las Vegas Since the 1980s

By Marianne Debouzy

At a time when the American labor movement is witnessing a profound crisis, including a dwindling of its ranks, Las Vegas, the capital of gambling, is the most unionized city in the United States. The article attempts to explain this paradox and what it reveals about the possibilities available to service workers in their efforts to mobilize and act collectively for good wages, decent work conditions and sufficient health coverage. Las Vegas is at once unique and typical of economic and urban development in the United States. The article retraces the growth of Las Vegas, including the restructuring of the gambling and entertainment industries for the benefit of the big corporations; it studies the ethnic and professional composition of the service workers in order to show the evolution of the Culinary Workers union. The history of this union and its struggles reveals specific elements of militancy among service workers, as well as current debates concerning modes of action, strategies and goals. The militancy of Las Vegas service workers signifies renewal in one part of the American labor movement, but can it inspire the movement as a whole ?

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