GRIST: “Heat waves are making restaurant kitchens unsafe. Workers are fighting back.”

Last month, Oscar Hernández couldn’t sleep. The cook, who worked at a restaurant located inside of a Las Vegas casino, had found that after coming home from his shifts, his body would not properly cool down.

The air conditioning at work had been broken for about four months. Hernández worked eight-hour shifts during the restaurant’s brunch service, whipping up eggs, waffles, and fried chicken. He spent hours in front of a scaldingly hot grill — an older model that only ran at extremely high temperatures. Most often, his station on the line was in a corner, and it seemed as if all of the other heat sources in the kitchen — the gas burners, the four deep-fryers, the waffle iron — converged right there. Summer had not officially started, but Las Vegas was already seeing above-normal temperatures in May, sometimes reaching triple digits. The fans that the owners put in the kitchen were not strong enough to cool down the space.

Extreme heat is nothing new to Hernández, who lives in Nevada and has worked in the restaurant industry for 22 years. But the situation at this non-union restaurant, a rarity on the Las Vegas strip, was becoming untenable. Sometimes it got so hot in the kitchen that Hernández preferred the heat outside, where at least there was a breeze. He had a headache that would not go away, and at home he sometimes found himself getting irritated with his children over small things.

“The heat inside a restaurant is different — it gets into your body,” Hernández said in an interview in Spanish. He knew doctors recommend getting adequate rest to help recover from overheating, but now he could not do even that. So he quit.

“I’m the only one who works in my family,” he said. “So I decided that I’d rather look for another job, one where I can work comfortably and then hopefully, I’ll be able to get some sleep.” He has since found a job at a different restaurant.

Stories of working under heat stress are common in the restaurant and food service industry, where back-of-house workers stationed “on the line” must stay on their feet for hours, cooking and prepping next to hot stoves, ovens, fryers, and more. But increasingly, this workforce must contend with an additional source of heat exposure: the record-breaking summer temperatures and heat waves taking place outside the kitchen. The confluence of indoor and outdoor heat has inspired some workers to unionize and fight for stronger safeguards at work. Employees at a Seattle-based sandwich chain recently secured historic protections against extreme heat in their first union contract. Labor organizers say they expect more food service workers to organize and bargain around heat in the years to come.

PLATE : “So Your Staff Wants to Unionize, Here’s Why That’s a Good Thing”

According to Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas, an affiliate of UNITE HERE, “there are a lot of benefits for companies to sit down and talk to their workers.” Key among them is attracting and keeping talented workers. In an industry with high turnover rate, employee retention can make a huge difference in a business’ bottom line. According to the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell, losing a front-line employee can cost on average $5,864.

The Nevada Independent: “With contracts settled, Culinary Union eyes aggressive growth in 2024”

Jose de Jesus Zuniga, a cook at Alexxa’s inside Paris Las Vegas, watched last November as restaurant employees at the Strip resort celebrated the ratification of a new five-year labor agreement between Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and property operator Caesars Entertainment.

He hopes to have that same experience one day.

Alexxa’s, an American eatery with patio views of the Bellagio Fountains on the other side of the Strip, operates independently of the dozen Paris-run restaurants. Like other privately owned food outlets inside Strip resorts, it’s not part of the five-year labor agreements Culinary and its affiliated Bartenders Local 165 settled during the past 10 months with companies representing nearly 40 Strip and downtown resorts covering nearly 50,000 non-gaming workers.

But one of the provisions in the new contracts allows the Culinary and Bartenders to organize nonunion restaurant workers at those properties. That was good news to Zuniga, who said he makes $6 an hour less than unionized Paris restaurant workers and pays for his health care. He is often asked to perform several tasks outside his job classification, such as washing dishes, which wouldn’t happen under a union contract.

“We want a union and we support a union,” Zuniga said, speaking in Spanish that was translated by a Culinary member.

“That’s why we’re sharing our stories. We hope more workers like me can join the union,” Zuniga said.

Der Spiegel: “Uncle Joe und die Casino-Revoluzzer”

Und die Einkommen seien längst nicht so stark gestiegen.17 Dollar pro Stunde verdient Guerrero in seinem Job als Parkplatzwächter. Nach Steuern, Sozialabgaben, Kranken- und Autoversicherung blieben ihm monatlich rund 1100 Dollar übrig, sagt er. Aber für sein Apartment müsse er 1600 Dollar zahlen.

Guerrero earns $17 an hour in his job as a [dishwasher at Alexxa’s]. After taxes, social security contributions, health and car insurance, he says he was left with around $1,100 a month. But he has to pay $1,600 for his apartment…

Fast Company: “Las Vegas has long been a union town—but that’s started to shift. Inside the campaign to turn things around”

Last August, Lionel Guerrero was hauling trash bags out of Alexxa’s, a restaurant known for its creative cocktails and live music inside Paris Las Vegas, when he bumped into a woman wearing a union button. The organizer’s button was out of place at Alexxa’s, which is not unionized, but it might have appeared elsewhere at Paris Las Vegas. The complex, owned and operated by Caesars Entertainment, has been unionized since opening in 1999. But Caesars leased a restaurant space to local restaurateur JRS Hospitality, which opened Alexxa’s in 2018. Guerrero started washing dishes there soon after.

Guerrero, 58, still washes dishes at the restaurant—and earns $16 an hour. Care covered by the health insurance Alexxa’s provides is too expensive to use, he said. He had brightened when he saw the organizer. “A union would be good here,” he told her. “Why don’t we do it?”