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Gaming industry, union at odds over resort room cleaning

Updated April 12, 2023 - 7:34 pm

A new piece of legislation could remove one of the last remaining protocols from the COVID-19 era and give hotel operators the right to stop daily room cleaning.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop spoke about Senate Bill 441, which would eliminate the requirement for the Department of Health and Human Services or other boards of health to require certain protocols and plans concerning the prevention of and response to COVID-19.

“We’re not talking about not cleaning rooms (every day); there are laws in place now where we have to clean and change clean sheets,” Billy Vassiliadis, who was representing the Nevada Resort Association, said in support of the bill during a hearing Tuesday. “It’s an option (customers have) not to.”

Prior to the pandemic, nearly half the guests on the Strip chose not to have their rooms cleaned daily, and customer satisfaction was at 90 percent, Vassiliadis said. Guests currently don’t have the choice to have their rooms cleaned daily.

“Unfortunately, because of SB4, Nevada continues to be tied to mandates that were developed at the very height of the crisis,” said Virginia Valentine, president and CEO of the resort association.

Senate Bill 4 was passed in a special session of August 2020 that responded to COVID-19 where the hotels were required to follow the Department of Health and Human Services’ minimum standard of cleaning in certain counties such as Clark and Washoe. It also gave the secretary of state the authority to suspend the state business license of a person who did not comply with the health standards.

“It worked then, but it doesn’t work now,” Loop said during the hearing. “Given what we know now, we should unburden our hotel operators of the COVID-era restriction and allow them to return to the high standards of cleaning they have used to meet and exceed expectations related to their customers’ safekeeping.”

The Southern Nevada Health District, Washoe County Health District, Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, Meruelo Group and the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce support the bill.

More profits, less labor

In Las Vegas, the hearing was streamed from Carson City to a room in the Grant Sawyer building that was full of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 members wearing red shirts.

“The Culinary Union recognizes the need to repeal some of the provisions of SB4,” Ted Pappageorge, the union’s secretary treasurer, said at the hearing. “But (we) are strongly opposed to SB441 as currently written because the Culinary Union should be protecting guest room attendants and also daily room cleaning.”

Casinos in Nevada broke an all-time record with $14.8 billion in gaming win for 2022, according to previous reporting.

“You would think with all these profits, a lot more jobs for Nevadans would be created,” Pappageorge said. “But in fact the gaming industry are (sic) only providing as many jobs as it did in the mid 1990s.”

If SB441 is approved, there could be layoffs of workers, said Diana Valles, the president of the Culinary Union. She said 73 percent of guest room attendants are people of color. Those who would get to keep their jobs would have to work harder as rooms would get dirtier for the single attendant assigned to clean the room.

“Daily room cleaning is also a safety issue,” Valles said during the hearing. “We have heard reports of workers being attacked when they are by themselves on these floors.”

Guest room attendants get to know their guests as they service the rooms daily and can report anything they see to security, Valles said. She said she’s heard that the threat of another mass shooting is always on the attendants’ minds.

“When a guest room attendant knocks on the door, they never know what’s behind that door,” Valles said. “They worry about opening that door to a pile of weapons or worse.”

Nevada State American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Nevada State Pipe Trades, Make the Road Nevada, Nevada State and Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada are among those opposed to SB 441.

Contact Jimmy Romo at jromo@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0350. Follow @jimi_writes on Twitter.

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