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Vegas at Odds

Labor Conflict in a Leisure Economy, 1960–1985

James P. Kraft

Publication Year: 2010

The stories of the shadowy networks and wealthy people who bankrolled and sustained Las Vegas's continuous reinvention are well documented in works of scholarship, journalism, and popular culture. Yet no one has studied closely and over a long period of time the dynamics of the workforce—the casino and hotel workers and their relations with the companies they work for and occasionally strike against. James P. Kraft here explores the rise and changing fortunes of organized and unorganized labor as Las Vegas evolved from a small, somewhat seedy desert oasis into the glitzy tourist destination that it is today. Drawing on scores of interviews, personal and published accounts, and public records, Kraft brings to life the largely behind-the-scenes battles over control of Sin City workplaces between 1960 and 1985. He examines successful and failed organizing drives, struggles over pay and equal rights, and worker grievances and arbitration to show how the resort industry’s evolution affected hotel and casino workers. From changes in the political and economic climate to large-scale strikes, backroom negotiations, and individual worker-supervisor confrontations, Kraft explains how Vegas's overwhelmingly service-oriented economy works—and doesn't work—for the people and companies who cater to the city's pleasure-seeking visitors. American historians and anyone interested in the history of labor or Las Vegas will find this account highly original, insightful, and even-handed.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Many generous and thoughtful people contributed to this study, the results of which loom large in the finished product. Philip Scranton expressed an early interest in the study at a meeting of the Business History Association in Glasgow, Scotland, and ten years later supported its publication at Johns Hopkins...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-8

It is a striking city, especially at night. Glitzy neon signs light up the Strip, hawking everything from Hollywood headliners to the “best steaks in town.” Posh hotels and casinos spread ancient pyramids, medieval castles, and other improbabilities across the landscape. Pagan statues line the entrances to Caesars Palace...

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1. The Rise of Corporate Resorts

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pp. 9-32

Modern systems of water distribution and air- conditioning have turned many desert towns into thriving urban complexes. Las Vegas’s rise, however, was unique. In the quarter century after World War II, its population grew at a faster rate than that of any other city in the nation. Warm weather, low taxes, affordable housing,...

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2. Working in Las Vegas

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pp. 33-52

It is tempting to view service workers as unskilled, often transient laborers, who have little or no influence over their work experiences and even less impact on larger economic matters. While much of the work in Las Vegas resorts did in fact involve tedious, repetitive tasks for low wages by low- skilled employees, the overall...

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3. The First Work Stoppages

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pp. 53-72

For more than two decades after World War II, when Las Vegas resorts operated as proprietorships or small partnerships, employers and unions enjoyed generally amicable relationships. Employers offered union workers steady pay raises, increasing job security, and expanding benefits in return for labor peace. By the...

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4. The Struggle for the Casinos

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pp. 73-95

Through the 1960s and early 1970s, a number of unions and individuals made what amounted to a sustained effort to unionize casino dealers, the largest and most important group of nonunionized workers in Las Vegas resorts. Employers successfully resisted that effort but not before granting dealers many of the benefits...

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5. Workplace Incidents

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pp. 96-116

On July 14, 1970, the Frontier Hotel fi red Herman Buskin, an experienced warehouse worker, for “willful misconduct” and making “rash and inflammatory” statements to his overseer, the ware house manager. Buskin had objected to new workplace rules, and when his supervisor insisted on enforcing the new rules,...

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6. Fighting for Equal Rights

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pp. 117-138

In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in schooling denied African Americans equal protection of the laws. A few years later, the federal government committed itself to the promise implicit in that ruling, and federal law and policy soon followed suit. A series of civil rights laws enacted...

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7. The Spirit of ’76

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pp. 139-158

In 1976, as the nation observed its bicentennial, thirteen thousand Las Vegas workers struck fifteen major resorts. The strikers were from four unions whose contracts with the Nevada Resort Association (NRA) had expired simultaneously. Employees from other unions refused to cross the picket lines, which helped...

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8. Management Digs In, 1982– 1984

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pp. 159-179

In 1980 Las Vegas was a thriving Sunbelt community. Nearly half a million people inhabited the metropolitan area, more than twice as many as a decade earlier. At a time when industrial development stalled in many other parts of the country, including some areas of California, the resort industry and attendant service industries...

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9. The Strike of 1984–1985

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pp. 180-199

On April 2, 1984, the look and feel of Las Vegas changed dramatically when more than twenty thousand workers from four trade unions struck the area’s resort industry. By six o’clock that morning, the striking workers had picket lines at thirty- two hotels and casinos, including a handful of small, nonunion...

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Afterword

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pp. 200-207

Strikers walking picket lines in the 1984– 85 strike often waxed nostalgically about their work and circumstances in earlier times. “I liked it better in the old days, before Howard Hughes and the other corporations came in,” one of them said. “This used to be a fun town,” another complained, “but the fun is gone. So is the...

Notes

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pp. 209-255

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Essay on Sources

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pp. 257-264

Information concerning the history of work, workers, and labor relations in the Las Vegas resort industry is scattered in a variety of historical records and archives. This essay identifies materials of importance in the preparation of this study, including primary sources and secondary literature that influenced my understanding...

Index

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pp. 265-273


E-ISBN-13: 9780801898655
E-ISBN-10: 080189865X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801893575
Print-ISBN-10: 0801893577

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 24 halftones
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Studies in Industry and Society
Series Editor Byline: Philip B. Scranton, Series Editor Published with the assistance of the Hagley Museum and Library

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Subject Headings

  • Labor movement -- Nevada -- Las Vegas -- History -- 20th century.
  • Labor -- Nevada -- Las Vegas -- History -- 20th century.
  • Las Vegas (Nev.) -- Economic conditions -- 20th century.
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