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Culinary union demands health district investigate violations

Updated January 28, 2022 - 6:51 am

Culinary union members called for justice and daily room cleanings during a rally Thursday in front of the Southern Nevada Health District.

Hundreds of guest room attendants and other hotel and casino workers gathered in the parking lot around 5:30 p.m., demanding the department investigate employers for violating a law that in part requires hotels and other lodging facilities in Clark and Washoe counties to have daily room cleanings.

Union leaders said they’ve heard from workers that daily room cleanings have not been happening.

The law, which was approved in August 2020 and was amended in June, requires daily room cleanings, enhanced cleaning, hand washing, masks and training, and testing and contact tracing. It covers more than 300,000 workers in Nevada, according to the union.

Ted Pappageorge, president of Culinary Local 226, led the crowd in chants from the bed of a pickup.

“What do we want?” Pappageorge asked. “Justice!” the crowd responded. “When do we want it?” “Now!”

“Our goal today is to send a message to the industry that these rooms need to be cleaned daily,” Pappageorge said. “In order to do that, you have to bring back enough workers to do that cleaning properly.”

He said companies not conducting daily room cleanings can use fewer workers, meaning those who show up must work all over the hotel.

“These jobs in the hotels are good jobs, but they’re very physical jobs,” Pappageorge said. “They’re incredibly difficult jobs.”

Diana Thomas, 55, works at the Flamingo and has worked as a guest room attendant for more than 20 years. She said she deals with back pain and has had firsthand experience with working all over the hotel because daily room cleanings were not happening. As a guest room attendant, Thomas cleans a hotel room while guests are out.

“If we’re all over the hotel, who’s hurting?,” she said. “Me. I am not a machine. I am a human.”

Thomas, Bally’s guest room attendant Mirian Cervantes, Aria cocktail server Alicia Sosa, head of the Nevada State American Federation of Labor Susie Martinez, and Clark County Commissioner and health district board member Tick Segerblom gave speeches during the rally.

“I work so hard, and I am proud of the quality of my work,” Cervantes said in Spanish to the crowd. “I try hard to finish my room quota each day, but orders are confusing. The work is intense, and I’m exhausted.”

Cervantes has worked as a guest room attendant for 14 years.

The group walked from the parking lot to a front entrance of the health district building, chanting as they walked. A smaller group held signs and calling for justice. The group returned to the truck and ended the rally with Pappageorge leading the group in a chant of “Union, union, union,” in time with everyone clapping over their heads.

Before working at Aria, Sosa worked at The Mirage and Mandalay Bay. Sosa said she and her fellow union members fought for the law and want companies to follow it.

“It makes me feel good,” Sosa said of seeing everyone at the rally. “We’re going to be stronger than ever. We have to stick together in order to make it strong.”

Culinary spokeswoman Bethany Khan said that of the 60,000 members the union represents, 20,000 remain out of work. She said union members have “recall rights” in their contracts that protect job security and wage rates. The 40,000 members who have returned to work have been able to do so because of those rights.

“We cannot leave these workers behind,” Khan said of those still out of work. “As business resumes, workers should come back, and we’ve been saying that.”

Health district spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore said Thursday that the department “systematically conducts inspections of all regulated facilities and responds to complaints.”

“We are aware of the rally and have not yet received the referenced complaints,” she added.

Khan said the union sent workers’ statements to the health district during the rally and hoped for investigations to follow, specifically of Bally’s and Flamingo.

“We expect this to happen now,” Pappageorge said. “This is the first step.”

Caesar’s Entertainment Corp. officials did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Contact David Wilson at dwilson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @davidwilson_RJ on Twitter.

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