Hattie Canty rose from the ranks of Las Vegas' hotel maids to become president of the Las Vegas Culinary Worker's Union Local 226. With little formal education, she led the union throughout the 1990s, a period of explosive growth in Las Vegas that included the construction of several megaresorts and one of the longest worker strikes in United States history. Under Canty's leadership, Culinary 226 emerged as one of the largest unions in Southern Nevada, representing the tens of thousands of workers employed in the hospitality industry.
Canty was born in Alabama in 1934 and grew up near Mobile. Following high school, she married and had two children. When she and her husband divorced, Canty moved with her children to San Diego where she worked as a housekeeper and cook.
By 1961, Canty had remarried and moved with her family to Las Vegas. She stayed home to take care of ten children while her husband worked for Silver State Disposal. In 1972, she went to work as a maid at the Thunderbird Hotel.
The “American Dream” Canty believed she had achieved ended with her husband's death in 1975, and she was left at age forty-one to raise the eight children still living at home. Now the sole support for her family, she worked as a janitor and then as a maid in private homes. Needing health insurance for herself and her children, she found employment in 1979 at the new Maxim hotel-casino, first as a maid and then as a uniformed attendant.
After her return to the casino work force, Canty became involved in the Culinary Workers Union 226, an affiliate of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. She was elected to the executive board in 1984, the year that Local 226 staged a successful seventy-five-day walkout against Las Vegas casinos in an effort to gain better health insurance benefits for culinary workers.
Union members elected Canty president in 1990. She held that position for over a decade. Canty's tenure as head of the union coincided with the longest labor strike in American history. In September 1991, 550 culinary workers at the Frontier Hotel walked off the job over unfair labor practices by the casino's owners. Their strike ended six and a half years later when the Frontier's new owner settled with the union.
As president of the Culinary Union, Canty strived to ensure that workers would receive living wages in order to support themselves and their families. She also sought to integrate the union and see minorities attain higher level jobs. One of her proudest achievements was the establishment of the Culinary Training Academy in 1993. The Las Vegas-based Academy continues to teach the job skills necessary for employment in the hospitality industry.
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