Convention Center Workers Prepare to Walk off the Job in 5 U.S. Cities

Union workers outside Orange County Convention Center

Skift Take

Sodexo convention center workers in five major meetings markets — Las Vegas, Orlando, Detroit, Sacramento, and New Orleans — are warning of possible strikes as early as December 1.

Workers employed by food services company Sodexo at convention centers in five U.S. cities are preparing to strike if there is not a wage increase and better working conditions. They include the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), the Orange County Convention (OCCC) in Orlando, Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Huntington Place in downtown Detroit, and SAFE Credit Union Convention Center in Sacramento. 

In Orlando, a strike can happen as early as December 1, one day after its contract expires. Union 737, representing the OCCC, has been negotiating with Sodexo since August and has had seven in-person meetings to no avail. Its workers have voted unanimously for a strike if necessary.

“Tourism workers who were on their way to financial stability before the pandemic are back in economic danger as the cost of living has skyrocketed,” said Jeremy Haicken, president of Unite Here Union 737, at a news conference. “Sodexo wages are not keeping up.” 

He added, “Tourism is the driver of our economy here in Central Florida. There hasn’t been a strike here in more than 20 years.”

In Las Vegas, more than 300 workers at the LVCC could authorize a strike vote in early December. The timing couldn’t be more inopportune for Las Vegas, as CES kicks off at the LVCC on January 5, 2023, and will likely be the largest in-person business event in the U.S. since early 2020, with an attendance goal of 100,000.

“We are the ones who make the convention center successful, and the convention center makes Las Vegas successful. We want to get a fair share of that success and not be treated like second-class workers,” said Dylan Schoenhard, a banquet server at the LVCC. 

Unite Here, a hotel and food services workers union, represents the impacted Sodexo food service workers, who include cooks, dishwashers, banquet servers, concession cashiers, and others. 

“We have a very simple ask — Sodexo workers need a raise,” said D. Taylor, president of Unite Here. “We need substantial wages to keep up with inflation.” 

According to Unite Here, the hourly wage of its convention workers in these five cities in February 2020 was $11.77 and had only increased 5.7 percent to $12.44 in August of 2022, while inflation between those dates was 14.1 percent. 

“I make $13.60 an hour, and our convention center is one of the biggest in the country. My coworkers and I are ready to do what it takes to win the contract we need,” said Jackeline Ponce, a Sodexo retail worker at OCCC. 

In their grievances, Sodexo workers also complain of being tasked with more work with less help. It reports that between February and August of 2022, all five convention centers experienced a workforce reduction of 38 percent. 

“The industry is saying 2023 will be a good year for them, and the workers who make meetings and events possible deserve to share in that recovery,” said Taylor. “But instead, Sodexo is using pandemic job eliminations as an opportunity to keep down labor costs and boost their profits. Strikes at the country’s second and third largest convention centers are a real possibility if Sodexo doesn’t start treating workers with the respect they deserve.” 

Skift Meetings reached out to Sodexo, that stated that a strike has not been called and that taking a strike vote is a normal part of the collective bargaining agreement negotiations process for Unite Here.