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Culinary Union and Fellow UNITE HERE Unions to Casinos: “Don’t Leave Us Behind.”

During a conference call with reporters this morning, leaders and members from the Culinary Union and other UNITE HERE unions in major gaming destinations called out major casino companies for sitting on multi-billion dollar cash reserves while providing either two weeks’ worth of pay or zero pay during the business shutdown.

As one Culinary Union member and casino worker explained, “This will not sustain us. We have to put food on our families’ tables. We’ll eventually have to pay all these bills we’re receiving.” 

“The question of money is not the issue. The question of care is.” 
– D. Taylor, UNITE HERE
Photo by Andrew Davey

When we last checked in with the Culinary Union and the larger UNITE HERE network of hospitality worker unions, Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline warned, “Right now, [Culinary Union workers are] not only worrying about getting sick. They’re worrying about their shelter, how they’ll get food, how they’ll pay their utility bills.”

During their conference call with reporters this morning, Culinary and other UNITE HERE unions in Biloxi (Mississippi) and Atlantic City (New Jersey) provided updates on what their members are going through. They also called on casino operators to extend full pay and benefits to their workers. Not only do these companies qualify for what The American Prospect’s David Dayen calls the “$4.5 trillion corporate money cannon” that got loaded into the CARES Act, but some of these major casino companies are still sitting on their own massive cash reserves that could be put to work to help their workers. 

Joe Biden
Photo by Andrew Davey

As UNITE HERE International President D. Taylor put it, “MGM Resorts has almost $4 billion in cash on hand. Caesars Entertainment has $2 billion. And should the [Caesars-Eldorado merger proceed], they’ll have $17 billion cash on hand. The question of money is not the issue. The question of care is.”

Taylor lauded Wynn Resorts for continuing full pay and benefits for their workers in Las Vegas and Boston, then asked why they’re nearly all alone in doing so. According to Taylor, “Here, we have a global pandemic. Why haven’t they stepped up? We believe commercial casinos should pay for people during the shutdown. Wynn Resorts is already doing that for workers in Las Vegas and Boston. Why aren’t the others doing it?”

“They have government support. They should pay their workers. And we’re not just talking about our union workers. We’re talking about all the workers.” 
– D. Taylor, UNITE HERE
Photo by Andrew Davey

So far, MGM and Caesars have only provided two weeks’ worth of pay to workers since Governor Steve Sisolak (D) ordered the shutdown of all Nevada casinos on March 17, and since other states with legal gaming operations followed suit. Beyond them, Arguello-Kline fumed, “We have people like the owners of Sahara, Treasure Island, and Westgate. They’re all billionaires. They paid zero. That’s unconscionable to us.”

But wait, can’t these folks just file for unemployment insurance benefits? Arguello-Kline stated that some Culinary members have, and other union leaders noted other UNITE HERE members across the country have as well. They also echoed the frustration that Reps. Dina Titus’ (D-Las Vegas) and Steven Horsford’s (D-North Las Vegas) constituents expressed during virtual town hall meetings earlier this week on the widespread delays in accessing unemployment insurance benefits

Taylor also chimed in on this as he decried these companies’ transfer of burden onto federal and state governments and taxpayers rather than simply caring for their own workers. He also pointed to both the CARES Act’s “$4.5 trillion corporate money cannon” and various states’ (such as Nevada’s) very low gaming tax rates as further reasons for casinos to stop forcing workers to rely on an increasingly stressed federal and state social safety net. For Taylor, “They have government support. They should pay their workers. And we’re not just talking about our union workers. We’re talking about all the workers.”

“Most Strip companies have only offered two weeks’ worth of pay. This will not sustain us. We have to put food on our families’ tables. We’ll eventually have to pay all these bills we’re receiving.” 
– Debra Jeffries, Culinary Union member

During the call, Geoconda Arguello-Kline provided more details on what Culinary members are experiencing and how the union is helping through its Helping Hand program. As Arguello-Kline listed, “We’re helping with unemployment applications. We have assistance for utilities, for food, for rent.”

Still, she exasperatedly explained that the union can only do so much, and that the casinos need to step up and do their part. As Arguello-Kline described, “[Workers are] not just worried about their health. They’re worried about caring for their families. We’re asking [all the casinos] to take care of their responsibility, just like Wynn and Encore have, and care for their workers.”

Photo by Andrew Davey

Early in the call, Taylor and Arguello-Kline turned to Culinary member Debra Jeffries to further explain what she and other casino workers are now experiencing. On compensation, Jeffries confirmed, “I have yet to receive anything but my closing package for those two weeks. Other [workers] have also not seen anything [but closing packages].”

Jeffries then added, “By putting their employees first, these companies have saved workers’ lives and integrity. However, most Strip companies have only offered two weeks’ worth of pay. This will not sustain us. We have to put food on our families’ tables. We’ll eventually have to pay all these bills we’re receiving.” 

“The government has given billions in bailouts to the casinos. We’re asking the casinos to share some of that money with us. Show that we are all in this together. Please don’t leave us behind, Las Vegas.” 
– Debra Jeffries, Culinary Union member
Joe Biden
Photo by Andrew Davey

As the conference call proceeded, union leaders and members in Biloxi (Mississippi) and Atlantic City (New Jersey) shared similar stories of meager compensation, extended delays in accessing unemployment insurance, mounting bills, and a growing financial crunch that only worsens America’s metastasizing health care crisis

UNITE HERE hasn’t been alone in criticizing the inequitable structure of the CARES Act and prior COVID-19 relief legislation, as a growing coalition of major progressive groups have called upon Congressional Democrats to, “Move quickly to pass additional legislation adhering to the following principles to prioritize aiding families and communities, especially black and brown people who are disproportionately harmed by both the public health and economic crises, and making the structural changes needed to make our economy more resilient in the long term.” Or in other words, they expect Congress not to make the same mistakes with “CARES 2.0” that they allowed into “CARES 1.0”.

Photo by Andrew Davey

While the UNITE HERE call largely stuck to their message to casinos to step up and do right by their workers, this nonetheless serves as another example of growing aftershocks to the COVID-19 pandemic, aftershocks that many Nevada workers are experiencing quite acutely. After she described what she’s been experiencing Debra Jeffries succinctly summed up UNITE HERE’s call to action: “The government has given billions in bailouts to the casinos. We’re asking the casinos to share some of that money with us. Show that we are all in this together. Please don’t leave us behind, Las Vegas.”

If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health DistrictWashoe County Health DistrictCarson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. For additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square.

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