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First Orlando, Now Vegas: Convention-Center Labor Strikes Authorized

With its contract with Sodexo expired, a major foodservice workers union has voted to strike in those cities if negotiations stall. What would that mean for big January shows coming to two of the country’s top event destinations?

Following the November 21 vote from their union colleagues at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, the Las Vegas chapter of Unite Here voted on December 8 to authorize a strike in the event of a bargaining impasse with foodservice supplier Sodexo, the firm that serves both the Orlando and Las Vegas centers.

New-contract talks between Sodexo and Unite Here are also happening for foodservice workers at the convention centers in Detroit, New Orleans, and Sacramento. However, there has not yet been a vote among unionized workers in those cities about whether to authorize a strike if negotiations stall.

The chance of strikes in Las Vegas and Orlando brings late uncertainty to some of the country’s largest conventions and trade shows happening in January—CES (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show) and World of Concrete in Las Vegas, and the PGA Show in Orlando.

While spokespeople from Sodexo, CES, and World of Concrete all declined to comment to MeetingsNet about their contingency plans if unionized foodservice workers were on strike during the January shows, Sodexo’s large national footprint might allow for this possibility: Bring in non-union line workers and managers from other cities to join the remaining non-union center workers plus temporary hires.

For event planners seeking to avoid a similar labor crisis that could derail their events, veteran events-industry attorney Joshua L. Grimes, Esq., of Grimes Law Office in Philadelphia, offers these thoughts: “If your event is coming up soon, I think it’s appropriate to ask the host facility specifically how they intend to handle things if the union members strike. The answer given to groups is usually, ‘Don't worry, we're going to take care of it.’ But without a labor agreement in place, I would say it's reasonable to ask the in-house catering company for a detailed backup plan. And if a group does not have confidence in what it hears, the group could demand the right to bring in its own caterer” or to use other options such as food trucks.

Further, “due diligence requires that a group not wait until a few days before the event to start asking questions. There's a legal doctrine called ‘anticipatory breach’ that says a group may not need to wait until the last minute to see if foodservice can be provided at an acceptable level of quality. If it's clear that the in-house caterer won't be able to perform its contractual obligations, the group may be able to cancel the foodservice contract before the event starts and proceed to make alternate arrangements to get F&B for its guests” at an acceptable level of both product quality and service quality.

Another complication that could afflict a convention or trade show happening at a facility where workers are on strike: Some attendees and exhibitors could choose not to cross the picket line, and cancel their participation.

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