Culinary workers at a Gaming Control Board hearing on sexual harassment Wednesday. Photo: Jeniffer Solis
Members of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 spoke before the Gaming Control Board Wednesday about sexual harassment they faced from managers and customers, as the board weighs regulatory standards to curb harassment in the casino industry for the first time.
The move to adopt the regulations comes after the Wall Street Journal reported in January that several women said casino mogul Steve Wynn harassed or assaulted them, a case that led to a $7.5 million settlement and Wynn’s resignation as CEO.
Several women testified about working conditions they faced at the D Las Vegas, a casino that has not agreed to a new contract with the Culinary.
Virginia Mendoza was a housekeeper for 13 years and now works at the D Las Vegas. A year ago she said she was cleaning a bathroom when a man and a woman entered the room, closing the door behind them, before asking her to join them in a threesome. She said she tried to stay respectful towards the guests while attempting to get out of the situation as soon as possible. She now works the phones at the hotel, but said even that did not save her from sexual harassment; two months ago a guest called her and harassed her with sexually inappropriate comments.
She asked the board to come up with a universal policy to protects workers from sexual harassment in Las Vegas.
The Culinary Union is has been bargaining for stronger sexual harassment protections for workers under their current contract negotiations including stronger protections around sexual harassment training and reporting and increasing the union’s involvement around investigations of sexual harassment.
“We’ve noticed that sometimes when workers go to HR they dismiss or try and hush it up,” said Bethany Khan, the director of communications for the Culinary Workers Union.
Some policy recommendations to the board by the union were the elimination of nondisclosure agreements from harassment settlements, strong anti-retaliation measures, needed revisions to sexual harassment reporting forms.
A unique challenge hotels face is the specter of how to address customer harassment of employees in the service industry where the motto is often “that the customer is always right.”
“There is a steep power imbalance between a guest who can afford to spend $450 on a bottle of vodka or thousands on a hotel suite and the server or guestroom attendant assigned to attend to his needs,” wrote Geoconda Arguello-Kline, the secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union in a letter to Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Becky Harris.
Earlier this year the Culinary and Bartender Unions surveyed about 20 percent of their more than 50,000 Las Vegas casino workers. Of those surveyed, 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. An unsettling number of workers —72 percent of cocktail servers and 53 percent of hotel housekeepers — said a guest had done something to make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
One worker, Luz Navar, told the Gaming Control Board Tuesday that a guest once called for hotel service asking for “another kind of service” saying he would pay her for extra services. When she told her supervisors she said they laughed at her, joking that at least the guest would pay her well.
“I see that those same bosses who are supposed to help just laugh at what happens to us,” Navar said in her native Spanish.
She said workers regularly call the phone room fearful that there is not enough security on the hotel floors and hallways to protect them from unruly guests.
Working-class women in the restaurant and hospitality industry have reported the highest rates of sexual harassment on the job. From 2005 to 2015, hotel and restaurant workers filed at least 5,000 sexual harassment complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the most in any industry.
Xstal Campbell, a former casino worker at The D Casino in Downtown Las Vegas, alleges she was fired from her job after she submitted a report of sexual harassment she faced from a manager to the company’s human resources department.
Campbell said she was sexually harassed by her manager, who still works for the company. He would touch her inappropriately; touch her hair, rub her shoulders, and grab her lower waist. She said the height of her harassment happened during her probationary period when she was most afraid of losing her job, she noticed a similar pattern of harassment with other new hires who are the most vulnerable.
When she finally contacted human resources about working conditions and raised complaints about sexual harassment on behalf of herself and other employees, National Labor Relations Board complaint and notice of hearing documents detail that she was told not to bring complaints to managers.
“I chose to come forward because I reached my breaking point. I could only tolerate so much. Enough was enough,” Campbell said.
She said after she came forward she was subjected to heavier scrutiny and extensive questioning about medical leave she took earlier in the year.
The D Las Vegas did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.
“Woman in Las Vegas are not safe when it comes to sexual harassment,” Campbell said. “We are not protected by anyone.”
This story was corrected to clarify that National Labor Review Board documents detail that Campbell was told not to bring complaints to managers.
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