Union leader: Casinos taking a pass on federal relief in order to terminate workers

darkness at the emerald city entrance
The closed MGM Grand on March 20. (Photo: Bridget Bennett)

This story has been updated with comment from Station Casinos, which the Current initially failed to contact. 

UNITE HERE president D. Taylor says he lobbied Congress in March to ensure the gaming industry would be included in federal relief under the CARES Act, which offers $2.2 trillion in relief for American businesses, including the casinos.

Now, he says “they haven’t taken advantage of that. I’m wondering why they asked me to lobby for it.”

UNITE HERE is the parent union of Culinary Local 226, which represents more than 50,000 hospitality workers in Southern Nevada.

The American Gaming Association, which helped lead the lobbying effort, did not respond to requests for comment.

In March, Taylor praised Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts International for paying employees during hotel closures and said employers who take care of workers should be rewarded in relief plans. 

On Thursday during an electronic news conference, he blasted MGM, which has since laid-off workers. 

“Part of receiving this loan is that you have to retain workers. It’s pretty clear to me they don’t want to retain workers,” Taylor said. “They just want to take the money and give it to the banks and the lenders. And that’s what many companies did in the Great Recession, and workers never saw the benefit.”

“MGM is sitting on $3.9 billion of cash.  So they’ve got the money,” Taylor said, adding other companies are in the same position. “It’s their prerogative whether they want to take the money or not. Of course, if you’re sitting on almost $4 billion you don’t need to take the money. At the same time, we don’t understand why they’re not going to pay that workforce just like the Wynn did.”

MGM public relations executives did not respond to requests for comment.

The union says it negotiated an agreement with Wynn Resorts to pay workers through May 15. But a spokesman for the company confirms Wynn paid workers throughout the Macau closure, as well, and is also paying workers in Boston.      

Las Vegas Sands, which does not have a contract with the union, is paying its Venetian and Palazzo employees during the closure, too.

“I want to be very clear about the industry. Some paid two weeks. Some paid zero,” Taylor said. “You have people like the owners of the Sahara. Owners of the Treasure Island. Owners of the Westgate. They paid zero. That’s unconscionable to use.” 

“An industry that has relied upon community support and has supported the community, an industry that relies on hospitality workers needs to step up now. They need to pay through the closure. They’ve stepped up before in different circumstances. We don’t understand why they are not stepping up now, particularly when they have the benefit of having some government loans that would help them retain the workers and retain the benefits,” Taylor said, noting he was speaking for all industry workers, not just union members. “We don’t distinguish.”

The Culinary’s longtime nemesis, Station Casinos, announced this week it would pay workers through May 15. Gov. Steve Sisolak on April 1 extended the order closing hotes and casinos to Aprl 30.

“Stations is doing that after the Culinary Union demanded they do so,” Taylor said. The union says it has won representation at eight of the company’s properties.  Station Casinos counters the number is six.  

“Earlier this month, we brought to your attention an article which contained a quote attributed to Mr. Donald Taylor, who runs the Culinary Union,” Station Casinos wrote to the Current. “You had reported on Mr. Taylor’s claim that Station Casinos paid its employees through May 15, 2020 ‘after the Culinary Union demanded they do so’.  You published that statement without seeking comment from Station Casinos.  Had you asked, we would have told you that Mr. Taylor’s statement was untrue and that the Culinary Union had made no demands of Station Casinos and had nothing to do with Station Casinos’ decision to continue to pay its employees.  When we did alert you to Mr. Taylor’s false claim, you informed us that Mr. Taylor ‘unequivocally’ had taken credit for that action by Station Casinos.  Mr. Taylor lied and in doing so deceived you and your readers.”

“Following our correspondence, Station Casinos contacted Mr. Taylor to demand a retraction,” Station Casinos wrote to the Current.  “He did not respond himself.  Instead Donald ducked and referred the question to a lawyer, who claimed on behalf of Mr. Taylor and the Culinary Union that it was a ‘fact’ that on March 16, 2020 the Culinary Union had issued a press release in which it ‘demanded’ that all casino workers be paid while casinos were closed.  In response, we noted that the Culinary Union’s press release only said that it ‘believes that all workers should be paid’.  Not a ‘fact’, not a ‘demand’ and not even directed to Station Casinos.  Just a lie.”

“Mr. Taylor’s lawyer did not respond to this point and ultimately refused to provide either a retraction or a statement that Mr. Taylor was misquoted in your article,” the company said. “We appreciate both the Nevada Current’s acknowledgement (sic) that it should have sought comment from us prior to publication and its willingness to publish our statement in its entirety.”

Culinary union spokeswoman Bethany Khan stands by Taylor’s assertion.

“Anything pertaining to union workers has to be negotiated and agreed to, that include workers the Culinary Union represents at Station Casinos,” she said via email.

Taylor noted gaming companies are cutting off employees in the three states with the lowest gaming taxes — Nevada (6.75 percent), New Jersey (8 percent plus community investment tax of 1.25 percent) and Mississippi (12 percent)  — and in doing so are putting the burden on the government “rather than stepping up.”

Dana Gentry
Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana is the mother of four adult children, three cats, three dogs and a cockatoo.