LV may be ‘back’ but workers, not so much

Resort Association opposes ‘right to return’ bill

Las Vegas sign
Only 50 percent of the Culinary Union’s 60,000 members -- the housekeepers, cooks, porters and servers who figuratively keep the trains running at local resorts -- are back on the job. (Image by Wallula from Pixabay)

The annual migration of Spring Break revelers to Las Vegas was more this year than a harbinger of warm weather and scantily-clad visitors. Ask anyone who ventured to the Strip last week and they’ll tell you — Vegas is back.  

From sports books to crowded sidewalks to the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the return trip to California, observers suggest the war against COVID is over and Las Vegas has prevailed.  Analysts even proclaimed the gaming industry’s recovery would outpace predictions. 

But the employment scenario paints a different picture.  

Only 50 percent of the Culinary Union’s 60,000 members — the housekeepers, cooks, porters and servers who figuratively keep the trains running at local resorts — are back on the job, according to spokeswoman Bethany Khan.

The 50 percent figure exactly reflects the capacity limits imposed by authorities on casinos, restaurants, and other businesses.

In March of this year, 20.6 percent of the state’s unemployed were in the Accommodation and Food Services industries, according to the Department of Employment, Rehabilitation and Training. That’s down from 37.4 percent in April of last year, when Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered casinos to close.  

Clark County, which has a workforce of 1.1 million, had a 9.3 percent jobless rate in February, compared with the national unemployment rate of 6.2 percent.  

Capacity restrictions and lack of midweek business cause “necessary staffing levels to fluctuate based on current demand,” Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine said in a statement to the Current. “As occupancy levels are increased, large meetings and events resume and visitation builds and becomes more predictable, we will see more employees return which is what our members have been looking forward to since the March closure.”   

On Tuesday, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced plans to reopen at 100 percent on June 1, but gaming authorities will determine capacities at casinos.   

“We remain focused on ensuring workers are recalled to work by seniority, fighting for ‘right to return’ for workers still not back to work,” Khan said.

Senate Bill 386, the ‘right to return’ measure, requires certain employers who lack a collective bargaining agreement to offer positions to employees terminated, laid off or furloughed because of the pandemic. They would be allowed to retain seniority and benefits.

“I remember times where my family struggled and it was never easy, and my parents relied on every paycheck to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads,” said bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, who testified last week that both of her parents were hospitality workers.  

“Unfortunately job recovery has lagged,” especially among minority workers, she noted. 

“No one who has dedicated their lives and years to serving these companies should be treated like an old pair of shoes and thrown out,” D. Taylor, president of the Culinary’s parent union, UNITE HERE, testified before the Senate Commerce and Labor committee last week.  

Taylor noted the union has defended Nevada’s low gaming tax rate against local and national attacks.  

“Every company represented by the Nevada Resort Association or the American Hotel and Lodging association, they say often their most important assets are their employees,” Taylor said.

The NRA is opposed to the bill, according to Valentine, who says it’s “unnecessary as our members continue to bring employees back to work as fast as possible.” 

“The bill would further damage Nevada’s recovery efforts by placing an arduous burden on employers through needless, time-consuming and counter-productive requirements that will significantly slow down rehiring and further delay bringing more Nevadans back to work,” Valentine said. “In addition, it would open the door for frivolous lawsuits and further distract the tourism industry from its recovery efforts.”

“Their deeds have resulted in loyal, dedicated employees being fired,” Taylor said of some Nevada resorts he says have used the pandemic “as cover” to fire industry employees who are  “predominantly women and people of color.” 

Taylor said that statistically, older workers take a 35 percent cut in pay “if they have to start over.”

“Nevada’s largest industry and economic engine continues to navigate the challenges created by the pandemic and now is not the time to create more obstacles to getting Nevadans back to work,” Valentine said. 

Dana Gentry
Senior 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 has four adult children, a grandson, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.