Unions push for job security ordinance covering all workers – union or not

By: - August 19, 2020 5:11 am
right-to-return signs

Workers from several hospitality and trade unions held a socially distant rally outside the Clark County Government Center to push for a right-to-return ordinance that would affect union and non-union workers who’ve been furloughed or laid off as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by April Corbin Girnus)

A coalition of labor unions is pushing Clark County to introduce an ordinance requiring businesses to rehire furloughed or laid-off employees based on seniority — regardless of whether those workers are represented by a union.

Right-to-return provisions that detail the order in which furloughed employees are recalled by companies are commonly negotiated by unions in collective bargaining agreements. They are not typically available to the wider workforce. But unprecedented times demand unprecedented steps to protect workers and their families, argue members of the newly formed Save Our Jobs Coalition.

The coalition is asking the Clark County Commission, which oversees the Las Vegas Strip, to introduce an ordinance that would give any worker who has been furloughed or laid off as a result of the coronavirus pandemic the right to return to their former job if it becomes available again. They want that job protection to be provided to all workers, union or not, across several industries, including hospitality, convention and trade shows, airport, entertainment and hospital workers.

“This is the right thing to do,” said Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello Kline. “Even if I’m suffering right now, even if we’re going through this crisis right now, even if I don’t have the right money to pay my bills, (if) I know I’m going to have a job at the end of this tunnel, then I have peace of mind.”

'save our jobs' rally
A woman holds a ‘Save Our Jobs’ sign outside the Clark County Government Center on Aug. 18 as part of a rally to push a right-to-return ordinance. (Photo by April Corbin Girnus)

The Save Our Jobs Coalition includes Bartenders Union Local 165, Culinary Workers Union Local 226, IATSE Local 720, National Nurses United, Operating Engineers Local 501, SEIU 1107, Teamsters Local 986, Teamsters Local 631 and United Auto Workers Local 3555.

Collectively those unions represent approximately 87,000 Nevada workers, but the ordinance they are pushing could potentially affect even greater numbers.

“This isn’t just a union issue,” said Tommy Blitsch of Teamsters Local 631. “I’m here on behalf of the working class. Unions historically in this country created the working class. It’s not just the unions suffering right now. There are people in jobs that are not union that are suffering just as bad as us.”

No draft ordinance language has been presented to county commissioners or staff, according to union representatives, but a blueprint is easy to find.

Several municipalities in California have already passed right-to-return ordinances since the onset of the pandemic. Oakland recently passed the “Hospitality and Travel Worker Right to Recall”ordinance, which applies to hotels with 50 or more guest rooms, hospitality and service employers inside airports, event centers with 5,000 or more seats and restaurants that employ more than 500 people. Los Angeles passed a similar ordinance. Pasadena passed narrower protections, covering only workers in hotels with 50 or more guest rooms or more than $5 million in gross receipts last year. San Francisco passed broader protections, which apply to most for-profit and non-profit businesses with more than 100 employees.

Statewide protections are being considered in a proposed bill introduced in the California State Legislature. Local leaders in Anchorage, Alaska, could as soon as next week vote on their own right-to-return ordinance. Theirs, too, is focused on hotel workers.

'the shows must go on'
A man outside the Clark County Government Center holds a sign reading “the shows must go on.” (Photo by April Corbin Girnus)

Hundreds of workers gathered outside the Clark County Government Center on Tuesday to show their support for a right-to-return ordinance. “Covid took my job. Human rights should grant it back,” read one sign held by a UAW worker. “Aria, you relied on us for 10 years, now we are relying on you,” read another sign.

Rusty McAllister, executive secretary-treasurer of AFL-CIO, referenced the mostly socially distanced workers rallying outside the government center while he addressed the commissioners inside: “Through the years they have built this city to what it is today and they deserve the right to go back to work.”

Nevada went from its lowest unemployment rate on record to the highest unemployment rate of any state ever in the span of a month.

Casinos were given the greenlight to reopen in June after being shuttered by the state in mid-March, but not all properties have reopened. Demand at the properties that have opened is reduced. Several companies have indicated in mandatory mass-layoff notices that previously announced furloughs are likely to become permanent. Experts predict the economic recovery could take years.

That means the recall provisions in existing collective bargaining agreements could be exhausted. They vary by contract but typically run anywhere from six months to two years, according to Arguello Kline. Many rank-and-file members expressed worry they might never be recalled if management sees the opportunity to simply hire new employees at a lower cost. That worry has them pushing for widespread protections.

“They say a crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” says UNLV Boyd School of Law Professor Ruben Garcia. “I don’t think (companies) have been wasting this. Some are looking to radically restructure their industries in ways that I think they’ve wanted to. They’ve talked about doing it, but the pandemic has accelerated those changes.”

Kanie Kastroll, a UAW member, believes return-to-work provisions need to be extended for as long as it takes for the economy to recover.

“At least have the human decency, and give us the human rights to go back to our jobs,” she said. “Loyal employees deserve to receive reciprocally from companies some kind of loyalty.”

Members of unions representing workers in the trade shows, conventions and entertainment industries are used to temporarily being out of work as various productions and events open and close, but those employment gaps (and their right-to-recall) are typically six months or less. 

“They plan for that,” said Phil Jaynes of IATSE Local 720, which represents behind-the-scenes entertainment workers like stagehands. “But there’s no way they could have planned for the situation we’re in now.”

No county commissioner publicly expressed support or interest in pursuing a right-to-work ordinance during the meeting Tuesday. However, Commissioner Tick Segerblom later told the Current he supports the effort.

The Clark County Commission’s next meeting is scheduled Sept. 1.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, three children and one mutt.

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