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Culinary Union Calls for More Stringent Health and Safety Guidelines, Oversight Before Casinos Reopen

“This is life and death. This is not like asking for something extra for the workers. The worker can die or the customer can die with COVID-19.”

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The Las Vegas Strip at the Miracle Mile Shops
The Las Vegas Strip at the Miracle Mile Shops
Leinani Shak Photography

As casinos across Nevada prepare to reopen for business, Las Vegas’ culinary union workers are calling for casinos to consider its own guidelines for safety and health protocols to ensure a safe environment for workers and casino guests. Gov. Steve Sisolak has not announced an opening date for casinos in Nevada.

Culinary Workers Union Local 226 represents about 60,000 employees statewide; together with parent organization Unite Here, the unions worked with public health professionals and industrial hygiene experts to develop a set of health and sanitation guidelines for gaming facilities.

“This is life and death. This is not like asking for something extra for the workers. The worker can die or the customer can die with COVID-19,” says Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the secretary-treasurer of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas. She says that 15 culinary union workers or family members have died due to complications with COVID-19.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board issued its own guidelines that casinos need to follow in order to reopen that do not include mandatory temperature readings, testing employees for COVID-19 before they return to work, or fines for not enforcing protocols. Some casinos, including Wynn Las Vegas and the Venetian and Palazzo, have already released their own plans for cleaning, protections, and social distancing when they reopen, but most casinos are relying on guidance from gaming officials.

The culinary union wants all employees to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to work, and all workers and guests should have temperature scans to ensure they don’t have a fever, one of the symptoms of COVID-19.

The union also called for personal protection equipment for employees and visitors, as well as social distancing guidelines in place. The union also wants more frequent and intensive cleaning of all surfaces, as well as training for staff on cleaning protocols.

Finally, the union called for the Gaming Control Board to enforce these guidelines.

“This is about all the workers in the hospitality industry,” says D. Taylor, the president of Unite Here, the parent organization of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 representing Nevada. “How are we going to have a universal standard to enforce? They have that with gaming. There’s certain things you can’t do and retain your gaming license. Why don’t we have the same thing here on just public health to protect the workers and protect the industry that they say they oversee and they care about?”

Sisolak closed all nonessential businesses including casinos on March 17 and extended his stay-at-home order through May 15. Sisolak revealed a phased-in plan for reopening the state for business last Thursday. Casinos may be allowed to reopen in phase three or four, depending on whether COVID-19 cases continue to drop, hospitals can handle new cases, and additional testing capacity is available in the state. Nevada is technically in phase zero of reopening, according to Sisolak.

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