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Culinary union: Masks only at tables games not enough for worker safety

Updated June 22, 2020 - 10:08 pm

The local culinary union believes casinos’ health and safety protocols fall short of protecting hotel-casino employees across the valley. So far, 17 union members and their family members have passed away due to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the union.

On Monday, union leaders and members took part in a video conference discussing the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s health and safety policies, which were updated Wednesday to say Nevada casinos must require players and spectators of most casino table and card games to wear protective face coverings.

According to Culinary Workers Union Local 226, the update is great for dealers but falls short of protecting other hotel-casino employees and their families. Secretary-treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline said the union is ready to take legal action if casinos’ health and safety protocols don’t change soon.

Workers risking their health

Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165, affiliates of Unite Here, represent roughly 60,000 workers in Las Vegas and Reno.

Argüello-Kline said the control board can do more to protect these workers and is asking the board to review its policies.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board declined to comment.

The union wants properties to check the temperature of all guests and patrons; require all guests and patrons wear masks when in public areas; require a deep-cleaning of guest rooms daily; mandate the testing of all employees for COVID-19 before they return to work, and test regularly afterward; enforce social distancing; and provide appropriate personal protective equipment to workers.

Various casinos have already taken these steps. Some casinos screen all people’s temperatures upon entry, for example.

But other policies are not required by the state or Gaming Control Board and have not been implemented by any Las Vegas operators, such as a rule mandating masks among all guests and patrons in public areas.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, a cloth face covering may keep the wearer from spreading COVID-19 to others.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said Friday that he’s considering an enhanced mask policy in Nevada, but no action had been taken as of Monday afternoon. Other states have stricter mask policies, including California, where masks are required when out in public in an indoor setting.

On Monday, Argüello-Kline questioned why Nevada hasn’t implemented policies similar to California’s.

“We know you have a responsibility with the employers. We know you have a responsibility with the economy. We want the economy to do better,” she said. “The workers, they want to work, but they want to work (and be) safe. They don’t want to work and risk their life, and risk getting sick.”

She pointed to recent COVID-19 case numbers within the state, which have seen an uptick since casino reopenings.

Nevada’s infection rate — a barometer of the trend of the outbreak — had been steadily declining for more than two months before turning upward late last week, when the state began reporting a surge in new cases. As of Monday, the rate stood at 5.55 percent, up from a low of 5.20 percent on Wednesday.

“We have a pandemic crisis,” Argüello-Kline said. “We need to change (these policies) … to move faster.”

Argüello-Kline said the union will follow legal measures and submit a grievance if the state or control board don’t make changes on its own accord.

Employee concerns

Union members in Monday’s meeting said they fear for their health and safety at work and worry that their employers aren’t doing enough to protect staff.

Diana Thomas, a guest room attendant at Flamingo, said she would feel safer at work if guests and patrons were required to wear masks. She also wants all of her co-workers to be tested for COVID-19 before they return to work.

Thomas’ biggest concern is bringing the virus back home to her 21-year-old asthmatic son.

“I would feel so bad if my son gets sick,” she said. “We just need to be safe, period.”

Caesars Entertainment Corp., which owns the Flamingo, will continue to comply with directives from the state, according to spokesman Richard Broome. He added that employees who have personal or family medical issues that impair their ability to feel comfortable at work should come forward.

“We will work with them,” he said. “Together we would explore a number of options, including a personal leave of absence, to help the employee feel comfortable with their situation.”

Yolanda Scott, a coffee shop food server at Treasure Island, also said she worries about bringing the virus back to family members, especially those with underlying health conditions.

“I’m a frontline worker and I want to be protected. All employees deserve to be protected,” she said. “Guests are not wearing masks. … That concerns me, because I don’t feel safe.”

Florence Lee, a bartender at MGM Grand’s pool, believes MGM Resorts International and other operators should have mandatory and regular testing for all employees to keep staff safe.

“Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world. It’s great that our tourists are coming back already, but our workers have to be safe and deserve to be safe,” she said. “Please, wear your mask and social distance for us.”

She also believes more employees need to be brought back to work.

“Everyone’s been overworked,” she said. “For the safety guidelines and sanitation we need, we need those extra coworkers and staff.”

Spokespeople from MGM, Treasure Island, Wynn Resorts Ltd., Boyd Gaming Corp. and Station Casinos did not return a request for comment.

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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