As hotel and casino workers don masks and gloves to face what industry insiders and government officials hope will be a socially-distanced onslaught of visitors, many of those government officials and their staff remain ensconced in their homes or offices, working on-line, by appointment, or not at all.
Nevada’s casinos may be reopening to face the pandemic head-on, but its government, one of the largest employers in the state, remains largely shuttered.
The Gaming Control Board, which approved the plans allowing casinos to open, is closed to the public. Many of its employees have been furloughed though others will be monitoring activity on casino floors.
State prisons remain closed to visitation, which was suspended in March because of COVID-19.
“The Nevada Department of Public Safety is continuing to conduct all public safety and law enforcement functions, while being cognizant of and adapting to safety and health recommendations set forth by the CDC and DHHS,” says spokeswoman Kim Yoko Smith. “Department and Division office hours may vary building to building.”
The Department of Motor Vehicles, the government agency that interacts the most with the public, is closed. Only on-line services and kiosks are available.
The government agency most in demand — the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation — which processes unemployment claims, is operating on-line and over the phone. The state has added employees to handle the onslaught of claims.
Gov. Steve Sisolak’s plan for reopening the state gave the green light to bars, stores, gyms, and casinos, but keeps the engine of government running on fumes.
“At this time, Department of Health and Human Services offices remain closed, however staff are working and continue to provide services through our many programs,” says spokeswoman Shannon Litz, who encourages those in need of help to check their website for a list of ongoing essential services.
“None of our agencies are open for walk-in services at this time,” says Department of Business and Industry spokeswoman Teri Williams.
Divisions within Business and Industry include:
- Attorney for Injured Workers
- Government Employee-Management Relations Board
- Financial Institutions
- Nevada Housing (Includes Manufactured Housing)
- Industrial Relations
- Labor Commissioner
- Mortgage Lending
- Nevada Transportation Authority
- Real Estate
- Taxicab Authority
The Department of Wildlife is closed.
The Department of Taxation is open by appointment only, according to a spokeswoman.
The state regularly employs approximately 151,000 workers, according to the Employment Security Department, or about 11 percent of the state’s workforce.
Sisolak’s office did not respond to inquiries about plans to reopen state government.
“Through the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of Nevada state employees have continued to provide the vital services our communities rely on. Alternative work schedules and working conditions that include overtime hours and tele-working, have allowed state employees to meet the needs of Nevadans seeking financial, health and social support services, among a myriad of other state services. AFSCME members are working with agency managers on how to restart in-person services while prioritizing the safety of the public we serve,” said Harry Schiffman, electrician at UNLV and president of AFSCME Local 4041.
“As state and local governments face revenue shortfalls due to COVID-19, Nevada’s dedicated public service workers are concerned they will be thanked for serving on the front lines during the pandemic with pink slips,” Cyndy Hernandez, a spokeswoman for AFSCME, said in a release last week. The union has won collective bargaining rights for some 20,000 state workers.
The union is urging Congress to provide state and local governments with funding to offset the deep cuts to revenue caused by the pandemic and preserve jobs.
State employees who are on the job “have shared that the state has not fully addressed safety concerns at their workplaces during these times,” Hernadez said in a message to members. “We’ve sent Governor Sisolak a letter requesting a statewide safety procedure be implemented for all open state offices. Even with cleaning supplies and safety equipment in shortage statewide, we are requesting state leadership to prioritize the safety of state employees.”
By contrast, Clark County government began opening this week “with comprehensive enhanced health and safety measures in place” in keeping with Gov. Sisolak’s reopening plan, according to a news release.
Note: This story was updated with comment from AFSCME President Schiffman.