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Laid-off Las Vegas MGM staff navigating tight hospitality market

Two months after she was laid off from her job at MGM Resorts International, Mali Catello is still looking for work.

After spending nearly two years with the company, the former director of learning delivery saw her department go from 14 members to five in one day. Now, Catello said, she spends much of her time adjusting to life without work, figuring out how to collect unemployment benefits and searching for job opportunities online.

“A lot of the positions that were eliminated are leadership positions, which are difficult to come by, especially with the numbers eliminated,” said Catello, whose job was to lead a team that welcomed new hires. “Those are not positions that are easily found in Las Vegas.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Nevada hit 4 percent in April — a 13-year low as employment statewide grew by 2,800 jobs.

But former MGM Resorts staff members say finding a new job in hospitality, the state’s largest industry, isn’t easy.

MGM announced its MGM 2020 plan in January, saying it would improve cash flow by $200 million annually by the end of 2020 and an additional $100 million by the end of 2021. The initiative, which lays the groundwork for the company’s digital transformation, resulted in the loss of 1,070 jobs, 881 of which were in Las Vegas. The final cuts occurred May 30.

MGM spokesman Brian Ahern said all former employees received two weeks of severance pay for every year of service with the company — up to 26 weeks for salaried employees and 13 weeks for hourly positions. They also received a two-week nonworking notice period that included health care and other benefits and were offered several months of career transition services.

“From the outset, we have been focused on treating employees fairly and with the utmost appreciation for their skills and hard work,” Ahern said via email.

The job cuts came at a good time for some, like former MGM Grand casino shift manager Richard Fried. After 25 years with the company, the 64-year-old decided to accept a buyout and retire a year earlier than planned.

Fried is using his newfound free time on hobbies — like trading stocks — and is planning a two-month trip to visit family in France.

Others weren’t so lucky.

MGM said most of the positions cut were in management and middle management.

That leaves former MGM managers like Cynthia JourdanSmith struggling to find work. The former group revenue optimization manager said she’s competing for the same jobs as her former colleagues, and she has run into them at job interviews.

“It’s very competitive,” she said.

BLS data show the state added 3,600 leisure and hospitality jobs in 2018, the fewest jobs added in that category since 2012. Two of the first four months of 2019 showed a drop in jobs in the sector.

Leaving Las Vegas

RCG Economics’ John Restrepo said those unable to find work have two options: find a career in another industry or leave Las Vegas.

After two months of searching for work in Las Vegas, JourdanSmith said she’s planning to find a job near Los Angeles, and she has considered switching industries. She’s taking online classes that would allow her to apply for hospital administration positions.

“There’s nothing in Las Vegas,” she said. “I’ve been on a couple interviews, but it’s hard. So many people are in the market looking.”

Catello said she’s looking at openings on the East and West coasts, despite living in Las Vegas the past 25 years.

A former MGM employee who used to work in human resources said people who were laid off from more gaming-specific jobs, like pit managers, are also having a tough time.

Their job “only applied to casinos. … There’s not a lot of those jobs available,” said the employee, who did not want to be named, fearing harm to employment opportunities. “If you’re willing to move, that’s great.”

#254strong

Some former MGM employees have found support through the networking website LinkedIn.

Just hours after she was let go, Catello helped create the #254strong LinkedIn hashtag, named after the number of employees cut at the end of April. Others have transformed the hashtag into an online group that allows members to share job openings, advice and referrals.

As of this past week, the group has close to 300 members, many of whom are still looking for work.

“I feel if I can at least help one person, I’m adding value. I’m being productive,” Catello said.

Some gaming companies in Las Vegas have expressed interest in absorbing some former MGM employees. For example, Wynn Resorts Ltd. is co-hosting a career fair with The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on Tuesday that’s open to veterans and workers affected by MGM 2020. Wynn is looking to fill 44 positions, including general managers, designers, receptionists and cooks.

Caesars Entertainment Corp. spokesman Richard Broome said the company would “certainly consider former MGM employees who apply for an open position at Caesars where they have relevant experience.” According to the company’s website, it has more than 450 positions open in Las Vegas.

Spokesmen for Boyd Gaming Corp., Red Rock Resorts Inc. and Las Vegas Sands Corp. declined to comment for this story.

“This has understandably been a difficult time for those whose positions were eliminated,” Ahern said via email. “We would not be taking these steps regarding this reorganization if we did not believe they were necessary to the long-term interests of the company.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

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

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