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As casinos prepare to reopen, the Culinary Union remains uneasy about worker safety

Jackie Valley
Jackie Valley

Earlier this week, the chain reaction that will wake the gaming industry from its virus-induced slumber began.

Gov. Steve Sisolak announced casinos could reopen June 4. Then the Nevada Gaming Control Board updated its health and safety policy, which outlines requirements aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. Gaming companies quickly followed suit and unveiled which of their properties would be reopening along with some of the steps they’re taking to protect both workers and guests.

But the process hasn’t appeased the powerful Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which represents roughly 60,000 employees who work in casinos-resort properties as guest room attendants, cooks, porters, baristas, bartenders and cashiers, among other roles. Several thousand union members are expected to join a caravan on the Las Vegas Strip Friday evening to demand worker safety.

Union spokeswoman Bethany Khan said casino reopening plans submitted to the Gaming Control Board should be publicly available. (The regulatory agency says they’re deemed confidential by Nevada law, although gaming companies are free to share their plans if they desire.)

“We just think the public deserves to know exactly what they are,” she said. “This is a matter of life and death.”

The union’s parent organization, UNITE HERE, issued public health guidelines for gaming properties amid the pandemic several weeks ago. The list includes 97 recommendations that range from employer-paid COVID-19 testing for workers and adequate personal protective equipment to banning vacuum use and frequent sanitation of gaming equipment.

The union contends the regulatory agency didn’t go far enough with some of its recommendations. For instance, the union said, “Guests should be offered surgical masks and asked to wear them while in public areas.”

The regulatory agency’s policy states properties must “provide for the availability of face masks or cloth face coverings for patrons and guests open request” and encourage them to be worn.

The policy also gives properties some leeway in how to address medical screenings for guests. Properties can either conduct temperature screenings as hotel guests arrive or ensure that a medical professional is on site at all times and require guests to complete a symptom self-assessment at check-in.

Khan described the Gaming Control Board’s policy as “disappointing” and said some of the union’s concerns have fallen on deaf ears. For instance, she said the union wants assurance that workers can access more than one face mask per shift if needed.

“It didn’t have to be that way because we have been involved from the beginning,” she said. “We have made public comment. We are the experts in worker protection. We have been participating in those workshops and these forums.”

Sandra Douglass Morgan, chair of the Gaming Control Board, defended the process leading up to casinos reopening.

“The safety and wellbeing of Nevada’s residents and guests has been at the forefront of every decision made by state officials,” she said in a statement. “The Gaming Control Board is no different. Working together with medical experts, the Board created policies that will help keep employees and guests as safe as possible while allowing them to return to work and play at Nevada’s gaming properties.”

The union started negotiating the effects of the coronavirus with gaming and resort companies before the shutdown began, Khan said, and will continue to do so. Already, the organization has agreements in place with the Wynn, Encore, Cosmopolitan and Hilton Grand Vacation properties.

The Culinary Union’s first caravan on the Strip drew roughly 10,000 members and their families, Khan said. They’re the people who slip in back entrances at properties and make the industry function, but Friday evening, they’ll be on the front side..

“All this work is done, and usually it’s invisible to most folks,” she said.


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