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Nevada congressional delegation, union chief ask Congress for help

Updated March 18, 2020 - 5:12 pm

WASHINGTON — With casinos, hotels and resorts closed in Las Vegas and Reno, the entire Nevada congressional delegation urged House and Senate leaders on Wednesday to provide relief to the state’s top employer, the tourism industry.

At the same time, the head of the union that represents casino workers called on Congress to help hospitality workers displaced by the response to the coronavirus.

A letter spearheaded by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and signed by every federal lawmaker from the Silver State, was sent to Republican and Democratic leaders in the two chambers urging immediate relief.

“We are very proud that Nevada’s tourism businesses’ top priority is ensuring that visitors and community members feel safe,” the delegation wrote in the letter dated Wednesday.

Many of those businesses took unprecedented action to voluntarily close doors, “losing out in millions in revenue in gaming, hotel stays, airline and other travel, restaurants, live entertainment and sporting events.”

“As a result of this action, workers face mounting financial, physical and emotional distress including reduced hours, layoffs, social distancing and quarantines,” the delegation wrote.

The letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as the Senate begins writing a third coronavirus relief bill that could total nearly $1 trillion.

Also addressed on the letter is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., whose chamber must approve the bill being written in the Senate.

President Donald Trump pledged help to the tourism industry this week following a White House meeting with executives from major hotel chains and Jim Murren with MGM Resorts International, a top employer in Nevada.

The Nevada delegation said the steep decline to the tourism industry caused by the coronavirus pandemic would have a serious impact in the state, where the industry adds $19 billion to Nevada’s gross domestic product and supports more than 450,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

And, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the city hosted more than 5.8 million international visitors in 2018, making it critical to the Nevada economy.

Revenues from the industry also account for nearly 40 percent of the state’s general fund, and a decline would have devastating impacts on services for working families in our state, the delegation said.

The letter was signed by Cortez Masto, Sen. Jacky Rosen and Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee, Steven Horsford and Mark Amodei.

“Congress needs to work together in a bipartisan way to ease the economic uncertainty for both working families and businesses,” the delegation wrote.

“We need to be looking out for everybody, our small businesses, Nevada’s vital gaming, tourism and outdoor recreation industries, and most importantly, our workers, especially those in the hospitality industry, who are the lifeblood of the Silver State,” the letter says.

Union chief demands help

Meanwhile, D. Taylor, international president of UNITE HERE, the parent of Culinary Local 226, called on Congress to remember workers when they write coronavirus legislation.

“We need a bailout for the American worker, not just a bailout for American industry,” UNITE HERE International President D. Taylor said.

Union leaders have been pitching a stimulus package of $150 billion for hospitality industry workers.

“We have problems with unemployment. We have a crisis brewing on health care. We have a crisis on housing. And, we have a crisis on sick-leave pay,” he said. “And, we’ll probably have a crisis on food stamps because if it’s that hard to do unemployment, I would imagine many states make getting food that much more difficult, too. The American worker needs to be at the table when we have discussions.”

Taylor said he is expecting congressional action by the end of the week, but he stressed that the workers — not just industry — be a top priority.

“We don’t believe in trickle down,” he said. “We believe in bottom up, and we need for the American worker to be the top priority in this recovery because 70 percent of our economy is consumer spending, and if we don’t get people pay, security on housing, security on health care, security on sick leave, we will prolong the agony of America and the American worker.”

Taylor applauded Wynn Resorts Ltd. and MGM Resorts International for pledging to continue to pay their workers in the immediate future. The two companies made their promises before Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered a 30-day shutdown — a longer period of time than most anticipated.

The state’s casinos were shut down at midnight by Sisolak’s order Tuesday and all nonessential businesses were ordered closed by noon Wednesday.

Union leaders from across the country shared the outlook in their respective states.

“The gaming industry is completely shut down,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union Local 226 in Las Vegas. “That is the heart of Las Vegas.”

Argüello-Kline called for “sick-day pay,” “quarantine pay” and a more accessible unemployment system that addresses language barriers.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter. Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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