Union workers lobby lawmakers to pass ‘right-to-return’ legislation

Union workers laid off during the pandemic traveled to Carson City to urge lawmakers to pass "right-to-return" legislation. (Photo: Michael Lyle)

Jose Lopez gave more than 30 years of his life working for Boyd Gaming, with the last eight years as a bartender at the California Hotel and Casino. 

After a year being laid off due to the pandemic, there is no guarantee Lopez, 59, will be able to return to his old job and is expected to re-apply and compete against a younger, less expensive workforce.  

“It’s the most unfair thing to do to an employee,” he said. “I gave all my life to a company and after 31 years I might be replaced by a younger guy. It’s devastating.” 

A year after the pandemic decimated industries across Southern Nevada and led to record unemployment rates, Southern Nevada is starting to return to normal with casinos reopening and tourism rebounding. Clark County announced Tuesday it is removing all pandemic restrictions June 1 and returning to “pre-pandemic guidelines.” 

Speaking in front of the Nevada Legislative building Tuesday, Jim Sullivan, the political director for the Culinary Union, worries thousands of workers are being left behind. Instead of hiring back the long-time employees let go due to the pandemic, casinos are hosting jobs fairs to hire new workers. 

“We can’t let companies use the pandemic and the economic crisis to get rid of older workers and discriminate against workers they may not like,” he said. “We always talk about how the hospitality industry makes our city run and our state run. Now our hospitality workers need the state to stand behind them. They need their jobs back.”

Senate Bill 386, known as right-to-return legislation, would require employers in casino, hospitality and travel-related industries to offer a laid-off worker a job they are qualified for. 

The legislation also requires employers “to provide a laid-off employee with notice of the reasons for declining” to hire them back. 

It was heard in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor April 7, but hasn’t received a vote yet and hasn’t been scheduled for another hearing. 

The Save Our Jobs Coalition, which includes Bartenders Union Local 165, Culinary Workers Union 226, IATSE Local 720, National Nurses United, Operating Engineers Local 501, SEIU 1107, Teamsters Local 631 and United Auto Workers Local 355, traveled to Carson City to lobby lawmakers Tuesday to pass the legislation. 

Lopez was one of the laid off workers hoping their stories would help lawmakers understand the devastating effects of being laid off and not being able to return to work. 

Like many of the union workers, he didn’t think the pandemic would rage for as long as it has, and figured he would be back to work within a month or two.

“Then it was two months. Three months. Six months. Now it’s been a year,” he said. “They want us all to reapply. But who do you pick, a 59-year-old or a 30-year-old guy?” 

While workers have shared stories to underscore the importance of SB 386, businesses, including casinos, have warned of dire consequences if the legislation is passed. 

“This bill would damage those employers who are still fighting to recover from the pandemic by creating burdensome, time-consuming requirements that complicate and discourage rehiring and would delay further the recovery of our industry and community,” wrote Michael Britt, the senior vice president of public policy and communications with Red Rock Resorts, in testimony opposing the bill. 

Britt added provisions of the bill would create a slew of “legal actions seeking punitive damages, thereby redirecting our focus from rehiring team members to battling lawsuits.”

Several cities, including Los Angeles and Oakland, have passed right-to-return ordinances since the pandemic.  

In August, the Save our Jobs Coalition lobbied the Clark County Commission, which oversees the Las Vegas Strip, to introduce an ordinance ensuring workers who were furloughed and laid off because of the pandemic had the right to return to their former jobs. 

But no ordinance came from their request. 

There have been a few statewide efforts to pass right-to return legislation.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation April 16 that created a statewide policy for rehiring workers laid-off by the pandemic. The bill requires employers in hospitality and service industries, including hotels and airports, to offer new positions to laid off workers. 

Democratic Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, who presented the bill back in April, spoke with union members Tuesday but didn’t offer any specifics on the fate of the legislation.  

“These aren’t people who are asking for some kind of hand out,” she said. “(Workers) are asking for a chance to go to work, work hard and do the jobs they’ve been doing every single day.”

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.