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Culinary Academy of Las Vegas Hits the Jackpot for Labor and Management

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker poses with Culinary Academy of Las Vegas students.

Arlene Holt Baker is the executive vice president of the AFL-CIO. 

In the gambling capital of the country, labor and management are putting their chips on one very safe bet: training for workers.

Yesterday, I had the unique opportunity to visit the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, a labor-management trust. The academy is the result of a collectively bargained labor-management partnership with UNITEHERE!'s Las Vegas Culinary Workers Union Local 226, Bartenders Union Local 165 and employers, including 26 major hotels and casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

The academy provides training for hourly workers, many of whom are immigrants, who want to enter the hotel industry. It also provides upgrade education and training for current union members looking to brush up their skills and have greater career mobility in the hospitality industry.

Employers from the major hotels and casinos want to hire academy graduates because they are skilled and “work-ready.” For workers looking to break into the fast-paced hotel industry, especially entry-level and immigrant workers, this is a real plus.

In 1989, Local 226 negotiated the creation of a jointly trusted training fund and center in its union contract. In 1993, the center expanded to its own facility that provides pre-employment training and also provides upgrade training to union members.

During my tour, I learned the academy trains several thousand people each year in 11 job classifications, including baker’s helpers, bar porters, bus persons, food servers, guest room attendants and professional cooks, sommeliers, stewards and wine servers. Class sizes are kept small, at no more than 15 students.

Last year, 52% of the new academy entrants were placed in jobs after graduation. In the past 10 years, the academy has placed 10,000 people in jobs. A total of 50% to 60% of new entrants into the academy are immigrants.

Workers of locals 226 and 165 also have access to a special partnership with the Nevada Partners’ Housing Program where they can qualify as first-time home buyers with certain income requirements for a mortgage with a 3.5% down payment in Clark County, Nev. They can receive up to $10,000 toward a down payment, closing costs or principal mortgage buy down. Culinary and bartender workers in this program also receive a home buyer education course and special counseling before and after the home purchase.

The academy is a win for everyone. Employers get skilled workers and academy graduates are prepared to land good union jobs. Most importantly, the Culinary Workers Union is recognized for its leading role in providing their signatory employers with needed, worker- focused skill development and employment opportunities for workers.

At the end of the tour, I ate at the student-run Westside Bistro, where aspiring cooks, food servers and bus persons practiced what they were taught in the academy’s training kitchens.

The food is so popular, people from the community regularly dine at the Westside Bistro. After eating their homemade chips, I can see why they have so many repeat customers. The chips were so good I suggested they sell them at the door to go.

Many unions like UNITEHERE!'s Culinary Workers Union are innovating and expanding in the area of worker training. It’s never a gamble to invest in a well-trained workforce, and that's why the academy is so successful. 

Serving the best chips I have ever eaten doesn’t hurt either.

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