Union reports sexual harassment of workers in Las Vegas casinos

With a possible strike looming, the Culinary Union has released survey results showing widespread sexual harassment and safety concerns at Las Vegas casinos.

In a survey of 10,000-plus Las Vegas casino workers, 59 percent of cocktail servers and 27 percent of hotel housekeepers said they had been sexually harassed by guests, managers or others while on the job, according to a Culinary news release Tuesday.

Also, 72 percent of cocktail servers and 53 percent of housekeepers said a guest “had done something to make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe,” the union reported.

The survey results led the Culinary and Bartenders unions “to propose stronger safety protections in current contract negotiations” for 50,000 workers in 34 hotel-casinos on the Strip and in downtown Las Vegas, Culinary said.

Their contracts expire midnight Thursday, and union members recently voted for the right to call a citywide strike as early as Friday.

While coming ahead of the possible walkout, the results also arrive amid the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault in the U.S. workplace, and after a heavily armed gunman on Oct. 1 killed 58 people at an outdoor concert from his 32nd-floor suite at Mandalay Bay, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Culinary said MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corp. — the two largest casino operators on Las Vegas Boulevard — have been “positively responsive to the contract proposals on sexual harassment and safety buttons for guest room attendants.”

“We are here to do our jobs and provide incredible, world-class customer service for our guests,” MGM Grand guest room attendant Maria Landeros said in Culinary’s news release. “We are not here to be abused or have people think that just because it’s Las Vegas anything goes.”

Debra Jeffries, a cocktail server at Caesars-owned Bally’s, said in the news release that she was “carrying a heavy tray full of drinks on the casino floor, and a high roller at the dice game grabbed me by the neck with both of his hands and forced me to kiss him for good luck. I have permanent nerve damage from that incident and I live in pain every day.”

MGM Resorts has provided safety buttons to housekeeping staff and other employees who enter guest rooms, and is working with the unions to complete “contract language that expresses our mutual commitment to protecting employees from workplace harassment,” MGM spokeswoman Mary Hynes said in a statement.

Caesars is working with union leaders “to address all important issues, including safety,” and is “optimistic” about reaching an agreement around the time the current contract expires, spokesman Rich Broome said.

Culinary, which said the survey was conducted in the past two months, is asking tourists to pledge to not sexually harass casino workers while visiting Las Vegas, adding that leaflets will be distributed at “major airports around the country.”

The announcement comes a week after 25,000 members of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165 – both affiliates of labor union Unite Here – voted with 99 percent approval to go on strike if a new five-year contract isn’t reached with operators representing 34 Strip and downtown resorts.

The “yes” vote was widely expected, although Las Vegas casino strikes have largely been avoided. The last citywide walkout was in 1984.

In the current showdown, union representatives are demanding higher wages, protection from layoffs caused by new technology, greater workplace safety measures, and protection for immigrants with temporary status.

Culinary is Nevada’s largest union, and its members include guest room attendants, bartenders, food servers, bellmen and kitchen workers.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Todd Prince contributed to this report.

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