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An employee welcomes and points out a sign with guidelines at the Bellagio after it reopened to the public on Thursday, June 4, 2020. (Mikayla Whitmore/The Nevada Independent)

The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 is calling state and local leaders to follow California’s lead and enact a policy requiring face masks in public areas.

The political pressure from the powerful union, which represents about 60,000 employees who work at casino-resort properties, comes as Gov. Steve Sisolak and local government officials consider beefing up facial covering requirements.

Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the union’s secretary-treasurer, painted the issue as a simple step that would protect workers and their families across the hospitality industry, not just those who are members of the Culinary Union.

“We need everybody wearing masks,” she said. “Why (are we) different than California?”

Last week, as coronavirus cases increased across the state and country, California Gov. Gavin Newsom made face coverings in public areas or high-risk settings a requirement. His decision ignited even more discussion about that question in Nevada, where COVID-19 cases have also been on the rise. 

The Nevada Gaming Control Board, which regulates the casino industry, strengthened language about face masks in its health and safety policy last week. For instance, anyone playing a card or table game who doesn’t have a partition separating the patron from the dealer must wear a face mask. 

Still, the updated policy didn’t outright mandate face coverings for hotel and casino guests. 

Three hospitality workers who joined the Culinary Union’s media call Monday afternoon said they don’t see enough guests — who are strongly encouraged to wear face masks — doing so. They estimated that only 5 percent to 20 percent of casino guests are wearing masks.

“I have observed that guests are not wearing masks in public spaces at Treasure Island,” said Yolanda Scott, a food server at a coffee shop within the casino-resort property. “That concerns me because I don’t feel safe. I do not want to bring the COVID-19 back to my family, my children. My partner has a bad kidney and a bad heart and we have to be extra cautious.”

Argüello-Kline said the union is looking into starting the grievance process against gaming companies over the face mask issue. 

But it’s not the union’s only demand. The organization also wants required daily cleaning of guest rooms, mandatory COVID-19 testing for all employees before they return to work and at regular intervals thereafter and adequate personal protection equipment for workers, among other things. 

Argüello-Kline said many hospitality employees are frontline workers who are interacting with guests, and they deserve the same protections being given to dealers. 

“We’re going to do whatever it takes, you know, to fight this because the health and safety is a priority in everybody’s life to go to work,” she said. 

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