The Culinary Union Contract–a Look Back

With the HERE citywide negotiations underway in Vegas this year it’s a good time to look at the historical structure of the Culinary Union’s contract.

The earliest Culinary contract I could find is  a three year agreement from 1961 which is less than 20 pages long—as opposed to the current version which weighs in at nearly 100 pages.

Surprisingly there were nearly 60 different classifications back in 1961 which is not much less than the nearly 89 found in the current agreements.

The job titles certainly reflected what the employment world was like before the discrimination laws.  Apparently if you wanted to plate the food in the kitchen you needed to be a “Dish-up man”.  However ladies who liked working with vegetables were in in luck because that job was listed as “Vegetable Preparation (Man or Woman)”.  Men who were experts at coffee were out of luck when applying for the “Coffee Girl” job.  There were jobs for those who wanted to be a “Grill Man or Woman” but gender seemed to be important for the “Glass Man” or “Silver Man” job.

If you were a Chef, Pastry Chef, Head Butcher, Head Waiter or Head Hostess you could use your bargaining power to negotiate your wage rate with the company—wage rates were listed as “open” in the contract.

If you worked in other jobs your ticket to wealth was getting the highest paid job as a Sous Chef or Night Chef, which paid a hefty $28.60 per day.  The trick was to avoid working a short shift as a bus boy where you earned a paltry $8.15 per day.

Apparently even in 1961 maids were hard to attract and retain.  After three months of employment a maid would receive a 50-cent raise to $13.65 per day.  No other job classification received an automatic raise based on longevity.

Even 50 years ago tips were the name of the game in Vegas.  No doubt in recognition of how the real money was earned the bellmen received one of the lowest daily wage rates of $8.65.

Health insurance was a bargain.  The company paid only $19.00 per month per employee into the trust fund.  It was really a bargain when you consider that for a maid that contribution was equal to about 10% of the wage rate.  As of the 2007 contract the health insurance contribution of $3.44 per hour constituted over 25% of the maid’s wage rate.

There is no mention of a pension in the agreement.

There is not much discussion of discipline or discharge.  No employee could be “fired” or laid off on his day off or while on vacation.  And spineless employers could not have the union do its dirty work: “The Union shall not be held to notify any member of discharge.  That shall be done by the Employer.”  However in those days the union lent a hand in managing attendance issues:  “Any employee who fails to report to work without just cause or who walks off the job during their shift shall be reported to the Union for trial by the Grievance Committee of the Union.”  The contract is silent on whether the trial could result in the death penalty. Apparently what gets buried in the desert stays in the desert.

The contract seemed to support family values. As long as they gave 30 days notice, employees with school age children were to be granted vacation, if eligible, during the school vacation period.  I’d tell you more but it would just cause you to spend hours longing for the good old days.


Oddly the contract does not mention dues deduction.  Nevertheless the union seems to have thrived since then–watch for a future post where we’ll look at the Culinary Union’s financial picture.

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